How to Study Smarter Not Harder
Drexel’s Welcome Week featured dozens of fun, engaging events designed to help first-year students prepare for the whirlwind that is college. Among the presentations was a truly unforgettable session titled, “Beyond Memorization: Effective Techniques for Learning.”
“A lot of learning is intention,” said Rebecca Signore, director of the Center for Learning and Academic Success Services (CLASS) at Drexel. This is true for both on-campus and online students; who are challenged to balance competing priorities on a daily basis. For many online students, juggling family, work, school and a social life leaves less time for studying. We sat down with Signore to determine the most efficient ways for online students to study while maintaining their sanity amidst a busy lifestyle.
Follow these 5 study tips to study smarter, not harder:
1. Create Your Own System
As an online student, you have a ton of autonomy. In the context of schoolwork, this means you have the freedom to create your own personalized study system. Signore recommends a few simple tips:
Whether you prefer note-taking from a physical textbook or an e-book, Signore suggests taking advantage of the highlighter tool. Highlight definitions in yellow, key phrases you’re comfortable with in blue and items that confuse you in pink, for example. Limiting the number of colors will help to break up the information visually without overwhelming the senses. “It’s trial and error. Don’t over-complicate it,” says Signore.
While many of us have become computer-dependent, there’s still power in handwritten notes. Creating flashcards, leaving white space to annotate later and drawing and inventing acronyms and anagrams can all increase recall. Likewise, taking handwritten notes while reading discussion boards, urges Signore, increases retention.
Signore also stresses the importance of “taking things out of order.” Don’t be afraid to mix it up a little. If you have a test on chapters 1 through 3, start on chapter 2 and follow a nonlinear path. This technique will help you to understand the relationship between concepts from various chapters. Plus – what are the odds that your test will appear in sequential order anyway?
Finally, don’t forget to include breaks in your study plan—especially when you’re learning something new. Try to take a 5-minute break every 25 minutes, recommends Signore. Your brain will thank you later.
In addition to mini-breaks, don’t underestimate the power of taking longer, more substantial rest periods.
Whenever you find time throughout the day, it’s crucial that you shut off the electronics, zone out and let your eyes and mind refocus. Resting ensures your brain is able to absorb the information you’re studying.
“Mindful meditation,” says Signore, “keeps you motivated and healthy.” Keeping your mind and body fresh will help you endure and succeed in the virtual classroom. Trust Signore when she says, “You are the best student when you have taken care of yourself first.”
3. Find a Study Buddy
An ugly myth about studying online is that you’re much less engaged with professors and classmates. Let’s use this opportunity to put this myth to rest. Regardless of distance to campus the college experience depends on what you put in. Remember, a lot of learning is intention.
Are you introducing yourself in the “Digital Dragon Days” orientation? Have you taken the opportunity to reach out to your classmates? Are you building relationships? If you answered no to all of these questions, you may be missing out on the most underrated resource of all: a study buddy.
Finding a study buddy doesn’t have to be an awkward chore. Think of your first encounter with your classmates as a sort of cocktail party, suggests Signore. Ask questions about others. Once you’ve found some commonalities, or even some points with which you disagree, build the relationship. Soon enough, you’ll be holding each other accountable, quizzing one another, and most importantly, teaching each other.
“The best way to see if you know something is to teach someone else,” said Signore.
4. Environment Matters
“Carve out a space–the nice thing about online learning is you can identify where that is,” said Signore.
Find a space in your home that encourages productivity while reducing distraction. Think about what you do in the rooms of your home. Your bedroom is a perfect example of where not to study, because it’s where you sleep and relax; likewise, your living room is most likely littered with distractions that make studying impossible.
“Don’t infuse work into spaces for other functions. Let that space be that space,” said Signore.
Instead, find a space with good lighting, no clutter and definitely no TV remote. “Maybe it’s your dining room table that you use 3 times a year.”
5. Engage Emotionally
“Make your learning meaningful,” Signore suggests.
Find a way to connect what you’re studying to your life. Put a face on it by discovering similarities between a character in a novel and your friend, for instance. Before you can teach or apply what you’re learning, consider how you can make assigned readings more than words on a page by comparing it to examples in your everyday life.
For more helpful study tips and resources, visit the Center for Learning and Academic Success Services.