How to Study Effectively: Simple Tricks You Should Know

How to Study Effectively: Simple Tricks You Should Know

Concerning the ability to study, there’s an old saying that if you want to hide something from an African, put it in a book.

Hilarious, right?!

Well…even though that statement might not be entirely true, I think that many of us struggle with studying – especially in this age of social media, automation, and twerk videos.

But as any successful entrepreneur or corporate executive will tell you, reading is of vital importance. The reason is that reading makes your mind receptive to fresh thoughts and ideas, it refines and nuances your thinking process.

If you want to learn how to change your study habits and consume more quality content, this article has incredibly useful tips that can change your life!

So, let’s walk through the process, shall we?

How to Study Effectively: Simple Tricks You Should Know

#1: Find a pattern that works for you

In 2012 while studying for my B.Sc., I listened to a certain lecturer tell an interesting story of his personal experiences as a student.

When you’re a freshman still figuring out what the courses were and so on, those are the kind of stories that get your attention the most. Frankly, his story was quite fascinating because what he told us was at cross purposes with what a lot of us believed was the secret to getting good grades in college.

He would read for a brief period at night and in the daytime, he said, he would simply coast along with everyone else. To his classmates, he was just another lousy student until the day his name came out as the best graduating student!

The story made an impact on me and I decided to figure out how to navigate the system as well.  I realized that attending classes was my best bet in keeping track of things. Hence, I made conscious efforts to take notes at each lecture. The rest is history because I graduated with a First while building a start-up.

The moral of the story?

Find a study pattern that works for you and follow it. Some people are never satisfied until they’ve totally read the textbooks 5x cover-to-cover. If that is you, maybe you can structure your reading period to be more than your class participation to the extent that the rules allow.

#2: Create a schedule and stick to it

Having a reading schedule is very vital. Create your schedule in such a way that you don’t start reading when you’re already tired. Also, your reading session doesn’t have to be a long period. You can create a break in-between the schedule so your brain gets refreshed.

Most people have this idea that until you’ve read for a very long time, you cannot digest much information. On the contrary, experts have discovered that reading for a long time in a stretch does not necessarily add to your learning.

The attention span of an average reader is about 25 minutes, and any reading activity longer than that is a waste. So, let’s say you have like most students do, a timetable that says you need to study for one hour every weekday. It’s advisable to create short breaks after every 25 – 30 minutes instead of sitting on the desk for one-hour staring at open pages without assimilating anything.

Furthermore, creating a study schedule helps you maintain consistency with your learning. The more consistent you make your reading reschedule, the more habitual and less of a struggle it becomes.

#3: Create an environment that works for you, not against you

How many times have you found yourself in this type of situation:

You promise yourself that tonight, you are going to read like never!

You have everything ready – cell phone is on silent, school bag is off the way. Armed with three different colors of highlighters, you sit on one edge of the bed and open your textbook with a serious reading posture.

Ten minutes later, you catch yourself doze. You step off, watch your face, get back and reposition yourself with a new game face. It has to work this time.

Five minutes later, your bed starts whispering into your ear again; “Jaaanne, come sleep on meeeee.”

Begrudgingly, you promise yourself that things will be different tomorrow. So, you put all the stuff away and you doze off.

A familiar experience, right?

Sure, many of us have been there at one point.

Your environment plays a key role in how fruitful your reading time becomes. A bed is primarily for resting and not for reading. If your bedroom is the same as your reading room, make sure your reading table is placed in such a way that you can sit with your back towards your bed. That way, you’re able to concentrate on the task at hand.

Create an environment that helps you focus – turn off the TV, put your phone on silent mode and turn down the volume of your stereo. You can’t be humming to a song on the radio and expect to concentrate on your reading, it’s never going to happen!

Some people have also found that placing motivational quotes at strategic positions in the reading section helps them commit to their schedule. Ultimately, your role is to create conditions that help you make the most of the session.

#4: Engage in participatory learning

group of people sitting beside rectangular wooden table with laptops

Many of us learn by rote – we just memorize facts without understanding the concepts behind them. It’s what students call “shew and pour”. i.e You memorize things to reproduce the same during exams.

People that study like that are usually bored out of their minds when they sit down to read. Reading can be more than a session for memorizing things.

Robert Chambers, a British academic and development practitioner, described Participatory Learning as an adaptive learning strategy that enables people to learn, work and act together in a co-operative and democratic way.

This is where ideas like discussion classes and study groups originate from. It seeks to create an environment where people can collaboratively immerse themselves in the subjects they are learning. The process of participation fosters mutual learning and knowledge sharing. The warning, however, is that you make sure there is mutual respect among group members, and that meeting is organized strategically to avoid growing weary of each other.

Participatory learning techniques:

i. Facts Vs Concepts

A fact is something known to be true, a piece of information while a concept is “an abstract idea generalized from particular instances or evidence, so involves an inductive process of thought.” Facts are things we memorized while concepts are things we understood.

The reason many people often forget what they read is that they didn’t understand it, they only memorized it. The moment you understand it, it becomes a present-hour knowledge. So, focus on understanding the concept of the subject, and then build your own argument around it.

ii. The reading comprehension formula

During World War II, droves of army people were sent to colleges and universities to attend intensive training in skills relevant to winning the war.  Professor of Psychology, Francis Pleasant Robinson, headed the Learning and Study Skills program at Ohio State University (OSU), and based on his research, he devised the “SQ3R method” and other techniques to help military personnel to learn specialized skills in as little time as possible. In his commentary, ahead of Veteran’s Day in 2002, Thomas G. Sticht called it “The reading formula that helped win World War II”.

How does it work?

SQ3R stands for:

S: Survey (the book/a chapter to get an overview)

Q: Question (ask one or more questions for each section in a chapter)

R: Read (and mentally answer the questions)

R: Recite (recall the answers to a section’s questions from your memory and write them down)

R: Review (a complete chapter, by answering the chapter’s questions from your memory)

iii. Getting help from your Professor

Another participatory learning method is to get help from your lecturer. Asking for help/clarifications from your teacher is always a smart thing to do. It shows that you’re interested in the subject and helps you learn what you missed.

iv. Teaching what you learned

The final participatory learning technique is learning to teach. Be quick to teach what you’ve learned. They say that if you can’t teach it, you haven’t learned it. So, find the opportunity to share your knowledge even if you don’t have all the answers yet. If you can’t find anyone to teach, consider starting a blog. You will realize that the more you teach, the more you learn. The concepts will become clearer in your mind. As James Clear has remarked, successful people start before they feel ready. The same is the case for teaching. And if you choose to start a blog, you will also be building a valuable audience, credibility and resource center.


I wish I could tell you that if you picked a few of the key elements above, you will completely overhaul your learning experience. But the reality is, you won’t.

It’s a complete package kind of thing, and you need to work on all the tips in the article. Surely, acting on some is better than acting on none, but the goal is to make the best of your study time and make learning enjoyable.

What other tips do you have for studying effectively? Drop them in comments.

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