Do you ever feel like you’re going through the motions while studying? Making the effort to sit down and focus is one thing, but taking the steps to ensure that you’re studying the right thing in the most effective way is another.
We all know students who seem to study less than everyone else, yet get the best results on exam day. The truth about these students is that they don’t study any more or less than you, they study more effectively.
Faisal Nasim is the director of Exam Papers Plus, and he's worked as a teacher and tutor for a number of years. We asked him to name the top 10 study habits that every successful student follows. Here's what he told us...
1. Get organised
Before you sit down to study, you need to be organised. That means knowing what you’re going to study, for how long, and how. Casually opening your notes and browsing through topics isn’t nearly as effective as studying with a purpose.
One of the best study habits to get into is to organise your workload into small, manageable chunks, while keeping the bigger picture in mind. For example, if you have a maths exam on the horizon, you need to know exactly what you’re going to be tested on. Once you know what you’re likely to be asked, you can break your studying down into small units, focusing on each relevant topic.
Being organised means knowing what’s expected in the long-run and knowing exactly what steps you need to take in between to meet those expectations.
'Good organisation – simple but effective, and it could be your key to exam success!'
2. Adopt a regular study routine
The most successful students don’t just study when they feel like it – they have a plan. Creating a timetable is one of the most effective study tips you can adopt to make sure you get things done. A study timetable doesn’t need to be complicated – a simple excel spreadsheet or wall planner is all you need to create an effective routine.
When it comes to planning when you’ll study, be aware of your natural concentration levels. For example, if you’re the type of student who works best in the morning, then perhaps you should aim to get the bulk of your studying done before school?
You know yourself better than anyone and although you may have the best intentions, are you really going to do a two-hour study session when your favourite TV programme is on?
For more advice on creating a study routine, check out this video from student Zoe Kezia:
3. Balance your workload
When we talk about a balanced workload, we mean finding that sweet spot between working hard and taking a break. As tempting as it can be to keep your head down for hours on end when you’re in the "study zone", it’s far better to study little but often.
The most effective students understand that we’re far more productive when we take regular breaks. The average adult can concentrate for around 20 minutes before their focus starts to slip, so it makes sense to limit your study to periods of no longer than half an hour.
In between each study session, aim to take a 10-minute break. Have a snack (a healthy one of course!), go for a walk – whatever it takes to re-align your focus so that you come back feeling refreshed.
4. Set short-term study goals
A good study habit to maintain before every session is to set short-term goals. Aimlessly reading through notes in the hope that you’ll remember everything is a pretty fruitless approach. Before every study session, get in the habit of writing down exactly what you aim to achieve in the next hour. For example, if you’re studying Physics, your goal might be to have memorised all the formulas you need to know for a certain topic.
After each study session, revise the work you’ve been doing by recounting everything you know, out loud. If there’s anything that you can’t remember, then you know you need to spend more time on those particular areas.
5. Do the hard stuff first
How often do you tackle the most difficult thing on your study list first? Probably not very often, right? Most of us prefer to start with the small, easy tasks to ‘warm ourselves up’ before doing the hard stuff. But what often happens is that once the small stuff is out the way, we’re either too tired or unable to focus on the big important task.
Time management expert Brian Tracy, calls doing the hard stuff first ‘eating the frog’. Your frog is your difficult task and if you start your morning by ‘eating your frog’, then you know that it’s the worst thing that’s going to happen to you for the rest of the day.
For more time management tips, take a look at this this video from student Mariana:
6. Eliminate distraction
A good study habit to adopt is getting rid of anything from the room that could possibly distract you. If you’re studying in a bedroom, then make sure that your mobile phone is switched off. Put the TV in another room and disconnect all electrical equipment (other than your desk lamp of course).
By eliminating the distractions around you, you won’t be tempted to check Facebook ‘just once’, or ‘have a quick game’ on your games console. You should also consider installing software on your computer like Cold Turkey that blocks distracting websites, so you don’t absent-mindedly end up surfing the net instead of studying.
7. Work in a stimulating environment
A common study habit of successful students is working in an environment that inspires you rather than one that distracts or demotivates you. For some people, a stimulating work environment might be the kitchen table, for others it might be the local library.
Often, the best environments for studying are those where other people are doing the same thing as you. That’s what makes libraries and coffee shops good locations for concentrating.
8. Review your learning
At the end of every study session, try to get into the habit of revising what you’ve just learned. Re-reading your notes, testing yourself with a quiz, or demonstrating your knowledge aloud are all great ways of revising your material.
Another way to test yourself after your study session is by working through a few questions from exam practice papers that relate to the topic. This way, you’re putting your knowledge into practice, which helps boost your confidence moving forward.
9. Ask for help when you need it
Asking for help is perhaps the single, most effective study habit that any student can adopt. No-one ever achieved great exam results all on their own – you need guidance along the way from teachers, parents and friends.
If you find that you just can’t grasp something, then you will save yourself hours, even days of unproductive studying by trying to work through it on your own. Sometimes, the best study habit is to know when you need assistance.
Your school teachers are there for this very purpose, so if you find yourself stuck on a topic, don’t hesitate to ask them – you can bet that the top students already have.
10. Join a study group
If you’re the type of student that needs a bit of extra motivation when it comes to studying, then joining a regular study group is a smart move. Not only do study groups help get you into a routine, but they can be a great source of information when you’re stuck on something.
As the saying goes, two heads are better than one, so why not gain the support of your friends while working through your study timetable. If there are no study groups at your school, why not start one yourself? Choose a day, decide on a location and invite your friends to join you – just make sure that everyone understands that they’re there to study.
Thanks Faisal! By adopting these study habits, you’ll increase your productivity and your chances of exam success. But what can you expect on the day itself? Check out our FAQs.