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7 tips to help you study smarter, not harder

Let’s be honest: study, even studying a subject you’re in love with, isn’t always sexy.

That’s doubly true when you’re halfway through a subject and realise you don’t actually understand it, or when you’re overwhelmed by the due dates for several assignments that’ve all crept up at once.

Vague, pie-in-the-sky study advice doesn’t help. ‘Be organised’ is all well and good, but how do you know when you’re organised enough? And we might all aim for 40-hour study weeks, but let’s get realistic, and not be too hard on ourselves when we fail to live up to that expectation.

That’s why the gun student academic support advisors at Deakin University have put together a bit of friendly advice on keeping your study mojo on target.

1. Fake it ‘til you make it

Corner a friend, relative or well-wisher and chat their ear off for 10 minutes explaining whatever it is you’re trying to learn. By lecturing on the subject you’re studying, you’ll do two things: first, it’ll identify any gaps in your understanding you need to work on; second, you’ll come away feeling more confident in your own learning.

2. Treat it green, keep it keen

Research has shown that there’s something about the colour green that helps with human concentration. With that in mind, invest in some green highlighters.

3. Bigger is not always better

When you finally get a chunk of time to sit down and focus, it’s tempting to simply close Facebook and try to think deep thoughts about what you’re studying for hours on end.

Unfortunately, that’s not the most effective way to study. It’s way more beneficial to have many smaller study sessions rather than a couple of big ones. That’s because your brain is like a muscle in that it can get fatigued over time, especially when it’s doing something demanding. Speaking of which …

4. Rinse, repeat

Your brain doesn’t have just one database it stores information in – it’s got a whole bunch. Information is copied between them as is travels from your short-term memory into what you can recall long term (such as on exam day).

The important bit is to give your brain clues that the study information is really important, and that it needs to stick around. The best way of doing that is going over the information at different intervals: a day after learning it, three days, a week, a month. Once just doesn’t cut it.

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5. Find your happy place

It’s definitely important to be comfortable while you study, but it’s also a good idea to keep your study environment similar to your exam environment. It’ll help you recall information on the big day.

So, for example – don’t listen to music, wear the same clothes, try to find a similar temperature and wear the same perfume or deodorant. That last one’s doubly relevant; the part of your brain that processes smells, the olfactory bulb, is also connected to your hippocampus, which is important for recalling memories and information. That’s why smells so often evoke memories.

6. Embrace the dryness

The sad truth is you’re not going to be interested in everything you have to learn, but there are still ways of pushing through. Find something in the subject you’re learning that you find interesting and dig into it. You might find it opens pathways up into the less than enthralling stuff as well.

7. Get with the century

Writing out notes by hand is incredibly important for memory formation and recall, but there are apps that can help with other aspects of study too.

One such is Anki, a free flash card service that’s available for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS and Android.

You should also check out Deakin’s handy assignment-planning tool; if you tell it how many days you’ve got for an assignment, it’ll spit out some rough project timings to get you started. Sometimes a gentle push in the right direction is all you need.

If you’re currently studying – at university, high school or anywhere else – Deakin’s website has some great tips on note-taking essentials to help you get the most out of classes.

Need some inspiration to help motivate you to study? Check out your career options with Deakin’s Explore tool

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