How to Study Efficiently

Three Parts:Creating Good Study HabitsStudying From Class NotesStudying From Textbooks

Studying may seem daunting, but it's an important skill to learn for school and for life. Learning how to study more effectively can help you improve your grades and retain knowledge. It can a little more time to prepare at first, but the more you practice, the more efficient your studying will become!

Part 1
Creating Good Study Habits

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    Approach studying with the right mindset. Researchers have found that the way students approach studying is almost as important as what and how students study.[1]
    • Think positively. Don't let yourself feel overwhelmed or intimidated. Believe in yourself and your ability to meet this challenge.
    • Don't think about worst-case scenarios. Manage your time, and try to look on the bright side of your study situation, even if it's unpleasant or stressful.
    • See each obstacle as an opportunity to learn and grow.
    • Don't compare your grades to anyone else's. Competitive thinking will only stress you out further.
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    Stick to a dedicated study routine. Staying on schedule can help you manage your time and your workload, and may make it easier to focus on the task at hand.[2]
    • Try entering a "date" with yourself to study in your planner or calendar. You may be more likely to take your study sessions as a serious responsibility if they're formal appointments with yourself.
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    Try changing up your surroundings for more efficient study sessions. Studies suggest that alternating where a person studies can actually improve information retention.[3]
    • Know whether you work best in a quiet space or with ambient noise.
    • Try studying with the windows open (weather permitting). Researchers have found fresh air to be energizing and revitalizing.[4]
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    Be as comfortable as possible. You shouldn't be so comfortable that you'll fall asleep, but feeling uncomfortable can make it difficult to concentrate. Set up a comfortable atmosphere conducive to studying.
    • Choose a chair that will be comfortable to sit on for upwards of one hour at a time. Use a desk or table so you can spread out your study materials.[5]
    • Avoid your bed. You might get so comfortable that you don't study. Associating other activities than sleep with your bed can also make it harder for you to sleep well.[6]
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    Study without distractions. Turn your cell phone and TV off and resist the urge to check your social media accounts. These kinds of distractions can deter you from work and can make it difficult to retain information you are learning.[7]
    • You may think that you're a good multi-tasker, but st
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    Don't cram. Breaking up the material you need to cover into small, manageable chunks is more effective than trying to memorize everything all at once. Cover material in shorter sessions over a period of several days or even weeks for the best results.[8]
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    Have a little caffeine shortly before studying. This will keep you awake and help you focus as you read, study, and prepare for class. Studies have shown that caffeine not only helps you feel alert, it may help improve your memory.[9]
    • Just don't overdo it. Too much caffeine can make you feel jittery, anxious, or stressed-out. Experts recommend that kids and teens limit their consumption of caffeine to 100-200mg per day. That's just 1-2 cups of coffee, 1-3 Red Bulls, or 3-6 colas.[10]
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    Take a workout break. Studies show that making cardio workouts a part of your routine can improve memory and overall mental health.[11]
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    Consider joining a study group. Researchers have found that students who study together in groups tend to perform better on tests and quizzes.[12]

Part 2
Studying From Class Notes

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    Record your class lecture, and listen to it at home or on the go. Ask your instructor's permission before recording any part of your class sessions. With his or her permission, use an audio recording device during class. If you're using a digital recorder, convert the file into an mp3 and listen to your lecture while you're commuting or working out in the morning.
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    Consolidate and trim down your notes in class. Write down important ideas, concepts, names, and dates, rather than trying to take down every single word your instructor is saying.[13]
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    Review your notes every day. This should be done immediately after class, if possible. If you cannot study right after class has ended, studying as soon as possible that day is crucial, as most in-class information is forgotten after 24 hours.[14]
    • Read through each line of notes slowly and carefully.
    • Ask your instructor about anything that doesn't make sense or is unclear to you.
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    Transfer notes from class into a designated study notebook. This will allow you to compile the most vital information in one place, and can help you make more sense of the notes you took in class. But don't just copy the material mindlessly! Rephrasing class notes in your own words will also help you understand the material beyond simply re-stating what you've been told.[15]
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    Review the whole week's worth of notes over the weekend. This will help reinforce the things you learned that week, and may help you contextualize each day's lesson better within the framework of the entire week's lesson plan.[16]
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    Organize your notes. Color-coding your notes by lesson or topic may be helpful, or try using a series of folders to create an orderly system.[17]
    • Try different organization methods until you find one that works right for you. This may include organizing handouts separate from notes, or organizing everything by date, by chapter, or by topic.
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    Make and use flashcards. Flashcards can help you memorize important names, dates, places, events, and concepts. They can be used for nearly every single subject taught in school.[18]
    • Choose the most important names, dates, concepts, etc.
    • Write the name on one side and the definition on the back. For math formulae, write the equation on one side and the solution on the back.
    • Quiz yourself. Once you've mastered giving the definition or solution based on the front of the card, try quizzing yourself by going through the cards in reverse - that is, read the definition or solution on the "back" of the card and challenge yourself to give the correct term or equation written on the "front" of the card.
    • Break your flashcards up into manageable sections. Just as cramming from notes/lesson plans is ill-advised, research has shown that the strategy called "spacing" is also more effective than cramming when it comes to flashcards. Don't try to learn more than 10-12 flashcards at a time.[19]
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    Use mnemonic devices. Associating names or terms with something simple to remember can make it easier to memorize information from your notes.[20]
    • Don't get too complex with your mnemonic devices. They should be easy to remember and simple to apply on a test.
    • Song lyrics might be easiest to use. If you get stuck, try humming the song's rhythm to yourself, associating the lyrics with whatever material you're trying to memorize.[21]
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    Go mobile. You don't have to be chained to a desk to study. Use technology to liberate your study sessions so you can study anytime, anywhere.[22]
    • Many mobile apps will allow you to create flashcards. You can review them anywhere, whether you're standing in line at the store or riding the bus.
    • Try recording your notes in a wiki or blog. You can tag these posts with relevant keywords, making finding your material a snap when it comes time to study. You can also review them anywhere you have an internet connection.

Part 3
Studying From Textbooks

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    Skim each chapter before reading. Look for text written in bold or italics, or off-set in a chart or graph. Also look for sections at the end of each chapter that condenses the key concepts from that unit. Information presented in any of these ways tends to be of the highest importance when teachers prepare a test on that chapter or section.[23]
    • If you're studying a creative work, such as a play or novel, look for patterns and themes. Motifs (elements that carry additional meaning, such as darkness, blood, gold) may repeat across the text, suggesting that they’re important to pay attention to. “Big ideas” are also good to focus on.
    • If your teacher permits it, you can use a study guide such as Cliffs Notes or Shmoop to help you understand the plot, so that you can focus on more important themes and patterns. Don’t rely on these guides to tell you everything you need to know! Use them only as supplements to other study and reading techniques.
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    Read the chapter closely and take notes. Now that you've skimmed the chapter and made note of the key concepts, read the whole section at least once, paying attention to details and taking notes along the way. This will allow you to understand the material and contextualize that chapter within the larger unit.
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    Be an active reader. Active reading, which involves asking questions of the reading and taking notes, is proven to be more effective and efficient than passively reading through just to finish the chapter.[24]
    • Draw a bracket around key concepts in the chapter, and circle any terms or names you're not familiar with.
    • Write questions in the margins as you read, then find the answers to those questions.[25]
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    Restate key concepts in your own words. This will help you make better sense of the material and will help you remember those concepts more concretely.[26]
    • Remember that restating can also condense and focus. As you restate, make sure you pay attention to what seems most important.
    • For example, consider this passage: “Students frequently overuse direct quotation in taking notes, and as a result they overuse quotations in the final [research] paper. Probably only about 10% of your final manuscript should appear as directly quoted matter. Therefore, you should strive to limit the amount of exact transcribing of source materials while taking notes.” Lester, James D. Writing Research Papers. 2nd ed. (1976): 46-47.[27]
    • A restatement of the key concept could look like this: “Take fewer direct quotations in notes bc too many could cause over-quotation in final paper. 10% max quotes in final.”
    • As you can see, this has captured the most important information from the passage, but it’s in your own words, and it’s much shorter -- meaning it will be easier to remember later.
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    Review everything you've read as soon as you finish the chapter. Go over your notes and any flashcards you've made. Quiz yourself once you've read through all of your notes several times through. You should be able to recall most of the key concepts, names, and dates. Repeat this review process as often as necessary to keep the information in your mind as you prepare for upcoming quizzes and tests.[28]
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    Don't try to do it all at once. Studies have found that the most efficient way to study is in short bursts, typically in 1-3 hour increments. Give yourself several days, each with several sessions, to prepare.[29]
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    Change up your subjects. Research suggests that studying related but varied material in one sitting is more efficient and effective than studying just one subject material in a given session.[30]
    • You can also try to relate material you’re learning to stuff you already know. You can even create connections between new material and pop culture. You’re more likely to remember new material if it’s linked to things you’re already familiar with.[31]


  • Find a time of day that works best for you to study. Some students are night owls and work best after dark; other students work best first thing in the morning. Listen to your body to know when you study most efficiently.
  • Take breaks every hour or two so you don't overload your brain, but don't break for too long or too often.
  • Learn what study methods work best for you and stick with those habits.


  • Cramming for a test is highly ineffective. Give yourself plenty of time to study, and practice effective and healthy study habits.

Sources and Citations

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Categories: College and University Study Techniques