Learn to Study at University

Steal the Habits of Highly Effective Students*

According to Professor Nate Kornell1 there are no shortcuts to effective studying, and the key elements of effective studying may not be obvious to many students. Here are three unintuitive but very effective ways of studying based on findings from Nate's psychological research.

Space your study

We humans, and other animals as well, learn more by spacing study sessions out in time than we do by massing them together (yes, we’re talking about cramming). For example, read a chapter at one time, and review it at another time; if you are studying a set of flashcards, study it every day, instead of intensely all at once. If you don't think spacing will work for you, think again - spacing is virtually always effective, even when it feels counterproductive.

Ask yourself questions

Testing oneself while studying has two advantages: first, it requires retrieving knowledge from memory. Doing so creates powerful memories that are not easily forgotten. Second, self-testing allows you to diagnose your learning. If you test yourself before your exams, you can identify and rectify your weaknesses beforehand, instead of regretting them afterwards. A warning though: self-testing when the information is still fresh in your memory, immediately after studying, doesn't work. It does not create lasting memories, and can create overconfidence.

Summarise and Integrate

After going to class or reading a chapter, try to summarise the main points and think about how they relate to the topic and to your own experience. This process creates lasting memories and has the added benefit of requiring you to recall the information. One way to do so is to "learn by teaching"- that is, tell others about what you have learned, including fellow students or, if you don't mind being boring, friends and family. Explaining requires integration and summarising, and is an excellent way to expose the gaps in your own knowledge. 

1Nate Kornell has taught psychology at UCLA and William College, and is the author of Everybody Is Stupid Except You, a Psychology Today blog that discusses what people think makes learning effective, and what actually makes learning effective.

*Apologies to the family of Dr Stephen Covey for the terrible pun on Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.A workbook from the Centre for Clinical Interventions to really help 

You can also discover the top ten study tips from the organisation that decides the top ten universities right here!


Want some more detailed information about how to study at university? Check out this series of presentations by Professor Stephen Chew from the Samford School of Psychology on how to really get the most out of your study.






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