Psychology-Based Study Tips

By: Rochelle Perper, Ph.D. | January 20, 2017

For students starting the spring semester at school, the New Year represents a fresh start for academics. Many students use this transition time to renew their focus on studying and setting goals for higher grades through better study habits. These are noble pursuits, yet without the skills to achieve them, change may not occur.

Unlike other articles on helpful studying tips, the strategies below are based in psychology research. Several tips are based on the research of David Myers, Ph.D., author of bestselling introductory Psychology textbooks, as well as other sources. (View a video of Myers’ study techniques, including the “Testing Effect,” using the link at the end of this article.)

School isn’t easy. Being a good student requires hard work, focus and dedication. The tips below will help you study more efficiently, leaving time for other important things in your life. Remember, striving for balance is critical. Above all, make sure to take care of yourself. Practice being gentle with yourself, staying healthy with exercise, eating regularly, getting enough sleep, spending time with family and friends, and enjoying the pleasurable things in life. Congratulate yourself on your hard work and accomplishments – you’ve earned it!

Psychology-Based Study Tips:

1. Study actively, not passively

Think critically and deeply about the material. Ask yourself how the concepts connect to other material you have covered or other things you know. Do not simply memorize bolded terms, definitions or facts. Know not only what these concepts are but also how they might relate to various situations.

2. Know the “Hindsight Bias”

Also known as the “knew-it-all-along” effect, the hindsight bias can sometimes get you in trouble around exam time. When you see the answer to a question while studying, you can trick yourself into thinking you knew the answer all along. When it comes time to recall the answer during a test, however, it’s often not such an obvious response. The solution is to cover up the textbook and test yourself rather than simply reading everything in the chapter.

3. Remember the overconfidence effect

Do not fall victim to the well-known phenomenon of being overly confident in your learning or abilities despite objective evidence otherwise. Instead, give yourself the opportunity to learn and practice your skills before you say “I’ve got this.” Spend time reviewing the material even if you think you already know it.

4. Use the self-reference effect

Things that are personally relevant are more easily remembered and learned more deeply than those that are not. Take advantage of this by relating the concepts you learn to your own personal experience.

5. Sleep

Research studies show that consolidation of memories from learning takes place during the waking hours of our sleep. While you may not want to stop studying to rest, know that time spent sleeping is actually helping you learn, as counterintuitive as that may seem! For this reason, avoid pushing your studying into the day of the exam. Rather, take just 5 minutes before bed to review what you have learned – this might be the most productive 5 minutes of your day.

6. Take a ten-minute break every hour

Although your brain is only 2% of your total body mass, it consumes over 25% of the glucose in your body. In other words, a surprising amount of energy intake is consumed by your brain. Giving it a rest periodically can help to keep you learning better and longer. Good brain nourishment consists of eating regularly and consuming enough protein in your diet.

7. Organize your thinking

Research shows that organized people learn better and faster. To do this, pay attention to the chapter headings in your textbook and ask yourself why the material is organized as it is. Do not get bogged down in the details of a lengthy chapter. It’s important to understand individual concepts, but equally important to understand how they are interrelated. Rather than writing down statements as they appear in the text, note instead each concept using a hierarchy of bullet points to organize the material and show how concepts are connected. This practice helps highlight the most important material amid less significant detail.

8. Utilize state and concept-dependent learning

Neuroscience research shows us that memory retrieval is most efficient when you are in the same state of consciousness and context as you were when the memory was formed. This means that if you study quietly at a table – as you would when taking an exam – you are likely to recall information more readily. Tempting as it is to study while sitting on the couch with the TV on, resist the urge. The payoff will come to you on test day!

If the study tips described here, combined with time and effort studying are not yielding the results you desire, consider meeting with a Psychologist to discuss other possible roadblocks to your learning. Examples of such roadblocks include Anxiety and Depression, ADHD and other Specific Learning Disabilities. A professional Psychologist is trained in the treatment of these conditions and can further assist you in developing tools and strategies for achieving your goals.


Watch the Video: David Myers Make Things Memorable


Image: CollegeDegrees360 on flickr and reproduced under Creative Commons 2.0

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