7 Habits of Students who Study Smart

time to change your study habits

Are you tired of those cookie-cutter study tips that flood your browser when you are Googling for study advice? Do you admire those for whom studying seems so easy, and always get the results they want? No more fruitless Googling, no more endless envy and  no more frustration! Digital Senior has here seven tips that can effectively improve your results.

1) Take notes efficiently

paper or device

One often-overlooked way to improve your productivity is to choose the right study tools and strategies.

Don’t head to class empty-handed! Bringing printed handouts or your laptop to classes can make a huge difference, especially when you know how to make the most out of them.

Printed handouts may be less useful a tool of learning for subjects that involve a lot of note-taking, like the social sciences or humanities subjects. Consider bringing your laptop. It may not be wise to use electronic devices for subjects that usually involve drawing of graph or special symbols (can you type easily “≠” on your keyboard?), however. For such subjects, printed handouts will make it less frustrating to take notes.

What if your subjects fall in between the two extremes? We recommend that you bring printed notes.

Lastly, while it may seem slow and tiring, do consider hand-writing your notes from scratch as an alternative! A scientific study has shown that taking notes by hand helps memorization better than typing on the keyboard because writing makes you more engaged in class.

Don’t believe in that? Try it next time with the famous Cornell note-taking system, which needs you to split your page(s) into two main columns. The right column is where you’ll take down notes, and the left column (the ‘cue’ column) is reserved for questions or keywords that’ll serve as prompts when you revise. Leave some space below for a summary section that you’ll fill-in after every lesson.


Here’s a video for illustration! (Video credits: getatomi.com)

2) Study consistently, little by little

Besides the right tool(s), you also need to have the right schedule. There are precious few subjects that one can do well for when starting your revision only two weeks before the finals. But we recognize that some of you have hectic schedules that make it super tough to study every day.

Studying consistently, however, doesn’t really require a lot of effort. It means going for all the lectures (or watching lecture recordings) and being present for all your tutorials. Ask questions immediately after each lesson. And make use of quizzes and mid-term as good motivations for you to study more and harder during the preparation period.

An anonymous lecturer puts it perfectly: “Lazy students turn up for all lectures.” If you have ever tried understanding a university-level concept by yourself, you’d know why you literally double or quadruple your study time if you don’t go for a lecture.

3) Apply the concepts to real life

There is no better way to learn than to apply what you are learning. You will realize that what you learn in textbooks are not just “theoretical”, but relevant and even useful to your life. That’s the power of application.

application information

Application need not always be hands-on. In fact, a lot of things that students learn in university are not hands-on in nature. But you can apply by observing, reading and listening. If you study economics, reading the newspapers will help you appreciate those economic theories in action. If you study civil engineering, the physical society, with its varied architecture, is your classroom. If you study psychology, each and every human being you meet is your subject of study. You could begin by observing the bystander effect in real life, or how the advertisements you encounter take advantage of the familiarity principle (or mere-exposure effect).

Try to see the world from the lens of your own study. That’s much more fun and great motivation for you to learn more.

4) Draw a mind map

A mind map is also a powerful tool because it mimics how your brain works. Your brain doesn’t work in linear flow of logic, but with association of ideas. It also works with keywords rather than chunks of sentences. Hence a mind map is no other than a representation of what happens when your brain is processing information. It is therefore “brain-friendly”. You will be amazed by how easy it is for you to remember concepts once you draw a mindmap to process your learning.

Depending on the nature of your subject, you can draw a mind map for each chapter if it is content-heavy or just one for the whole module. You can also make use of some online software if you foresee your mind map to be complex.

5) Redo the same questions, derive the new insights

By now you should know that practice makes perfect. But in order to practice, you don’t have to put together pages and pages of practice papers. The better option is to redo your tutorial questions.

Those questions have been handpicked by your professor. Even if your professor has gone through the answers with you, it is still very beneficial that go through the whole process of cracking the problems again.

Waste of time? Not at all! Even if a question is relatively simple, revisiting it helps reinforce your memory of basic concepts. If it is a difficult question, it is unlikely that you have mastered all the steps and concepts at one go. There may be missing links in logical thinking. You may forget what the next step in a solution should be, and need some prompts or hints from others. Redoing the same questions will help you pinpoint that gap in solving the same problems and consolidate your understanding.

This is actually a study method called active recall at work! You can also give the Feynman technique a spin. This technique requires you to choose a concept or topic and try (or pretend) to teach it to a young child who is eight to nine years old. If you find it hard to simplify what you’re covering or go blank connecting the dots, review the material and refine your explanations until you have everything down pat.

Here are some active recall tips for those of you who are just starting out!

If you can teach what you’ve learnt to another successfully, it shows that you have a solid grasp of the material. This is especially important when much of what we learn at undergraduate-level and above involves the use of jargon. We can underestimate how well we know something when we use jargon too much; if you can simplify everything and make it easy to understand there’s no cause for concern.

6) Have a personal secretary: A notebook of important concepts and questions

As you are revising notes or checking answers for your practice papers, you can note down all the tricky concepts and important questions at one place. You can keep a physical notebook or simply a word document on your computer. Once you have collected all the key points, the notebook is a powerful tool as you can just read through everything even just before the exams start. It is a condensed version of the things that you need to pay special attention to.

personal secretary

But do be selective in choosing what goes into the notebook. The bar should be rather high. It really should contain concepts/questions that are difficult to understand and master. As your revision progresses, your understanding should improve too. As a result, your notes should shorten as you strike out things you have absorbed. Ideally a few days before the actual final exam, your notebook should not exceed 3-4 pages that contain information that you can quickly read through right before you enter the exam hall.

7) Understand your Examinations

Some students only care to understand their examinations a few weeks before the exams kick in. That is the reason why most of them don’t do well. Your understanding should begin as soon as you start a module.

You need to understand the exam format. If it is MCQ-based, you wouldn’t be too concerned about graph drawing and proving. Instead, you should be more concerned about “factual questions” without much analysis going into them.

If your exam calls for writing essays, you need to spend more time reading extra materials, understanding the author’s arguments and memorizing some examples.

You can also ask your professor if your exam is going to be qualitative or quantitative in nature. For a module like Information Technology, it can be tested either way. It is important that you understand what will be tested and study with a focus. Be directionally correct. Once you do that, you will be way ahead of your peers when it comes time to revise for exams and they begin to wonder why you are so well prepared.

What’s Next?

Perhaps, in conclusion, all the seven tips aside, you need to understand yourself. Why do you want to or need to study? What keeps you procrastinating? Are you daunted by the amount of revision you’ll have to do?

Have some dialogue with yourself and then apply the seven tips above. Trust that you will see improvement in your results if you apply them consistently. Each of these seven tips will help you bring your studying skills and therefore ‘A’ probability one notch higher, but go at a pace that you can sustain. Just take one tip from this article and implement it, and you should see yourself studying more effortlessly than before.

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