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Practical Study Tips for Overwhelmed Students

I have two undergraduate degrees. I’m a former certified personal trainer and nutrition specialist. And I also have a Master of Divinity degree. I’ve probably done more schooling than I ever wanted to and, as a result, I’ve had to learn how to study well. How do I study?

practical study tips

Now that I’ve learned the gist of a few languages, have taken hundreds of tests and received lots of grades, I’ve learned a thing or two about studying that I can pass along.

Here are 12 of them.

1. Study six days a week

Notice I didn’t say “every day.” You can take a day off. But try not to take two. When it comes to studying, like many other areas of life, one principle is generally true: frequency is better than length. It’s better to study for 30 minutes a day for six days a week than it is to study for five hours the night before an exam.

This takes discipline. But discipline is the pathway to joy. If you develop the discipline of studying 30 minutes a day for six days a week, you’ll feel a lot less overwhelmed on test day.

2. Sign-up for office hours with your professors

Your professor doesn’t hate you. In fact, most professors really, really care about you and want you to succeed. If possible, you should sign-up for office hours and spend time with him or her.

Why? One reason is to build a relationship. The professor is typically much wiser, older, and smarter than you and can speak helpful tidbits into your life. Another reason is to ask questions and glean insights about classroom material that they may not explicitly mention in class.

Here are a few questions you can ask:

  • What does it take to succeed in this class?
  • Would you be willing to meet with me once a week to answer my questions?
  • What have previous students done in order to do well in your class?

Try it. Office hours are available for a reason. It’s the mark of the wise student who takes advantage of this opportunity.

3. Study by yourself before you study in groups

Do you prefer to study alone or in groups? For independent introverts, the thought of studying with another soul makes you want to quit school. For energized extroverts, you can hardly study for an hour without feeling distracted. I’m somewhere in the middle (more toward the introverted side, though), and I do both. But I think it’s wise to study by yourself before you join a group study. If you don’t, you won’t add value to the group discussion. You won’t be as helpful as you could be.

So, study by yourself or with others? Both. But don’t do the latter until you’ve done the former.

4. Have confidence in yourself. You are a lot smarter than you think.

I remember my first day of Greek I class in seminary. The professor was a Greek expert, and I felt overwhelmed just sitting in the room. “If you work hard, anyone can get an A- in Greek,” the professor said. That one sentence alleviated my anxiety. If you work hard, you’ll do well. Your final grade in a class is less indicative of your natural intelligence and more indicative of your work ethic.

5. Write what you study

Remember the Greek Professor above?

Well, I actually visited him in office hours, and he gave me helpful advice. “I learn by writing,” he said. And that’s when it hit me: good studying doesn’t just involve active reading, but also intentional writing. If you write out what you study, you’ll comprehend and remember better.

6. Teach what you learn

The best learners don’t just learn for their own sake but seek to pass the knowledge along to others. This is kind of what I do with my blog. I’m just writing things that I learn in hopes of serving others. And I find that when I write an article about something I’ve learned, I’m more prone to remember it.

For you, it may not be blogging.

Maybe it’s telling your spouse or friend what you’ve learned. Or maybe you share facts you’ve learned on social media. Or maybe in Sunday school at church. Pick something that works for you. When you pass on the knowledge, you not only help someone else, you also help yourself through increased remembrance. It’s a win-win situation.

6. Use Quizlet

Have you heard of Quizlet?

As they say on their site, you can literally “search millions of study sets or create your own. Improve your grades by studying with flashcards, games and more.”

For those of you that prefer technology over old-school flashcards, Quizlet is the way to go.

7. Use flash cards

Still, not everyone is technologically savvy, and flash cards are still popular. Use them. They are particularly helpful for memorizing definitions of vocabulary words in a foreign language.

8. Stand up while you read

No, seriously. Try it.

Sitting all day is not good for you, and standing (or walking) while you read may help you remember more material.

9. Diet and Exercise

Without question, one of the most helpful things I do to feel good about life, which translates into studying, is eating well and exercise.

I don’t always eat well, but I find myself in the gym quite often doing cardio. Exercise has a way of boosting my mood, elevating my energy, and decreasing my stress to help me study better.

10. Take Breaks

Have you heard of the 50/10 rule?

Someone shared it with me back in undergrad. Basically, you study for 50 minutes, then take a 10-minute break. Then, you repeat until you’re done.

While every person is different, some studies have shown that studying for a prolonged period of time without breaks will actually make you remember less.

Remember to take breaks.

11. Don’t compare yourself to others

Every student is not gifted the same way. There will be some students that are smarter than you, that get better grades than you, that require less energy for better results than you. It seems that some students don’t even have to try hard and yet they still get good grades. Don’t compare yourself to them — you’ll find yourself in despair if you do.

On the flip side, the opposite is also true: you’ll find that you’ll pick up on the material and do better than others. Don’t compare yourself to them either because if you do, you’ll become prideful. This leads to misery and almost never translates into better grades. Either way, focus on what you have to get done and don’t compare yourself to others.

12. Celebrate after you succeed

Finally, celebrate after you succeed! Don’t be so focused on the “next thing” that you forget to slow down and enjoy what you’ve already done.

The results of your grades are often less indicative of your natural intelligence and more indicative of your work ethic. While being quick to learn is great, we’re not all wired that way. If you practice a few of the tips above, I trust that you’ll be a lot happier and learn a lot more and get better grades.

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