5 Effective Studying Techniques Backed by Research

The process of studying in college differs significantly from studying in high-school. Outside of lectures, college students are expected to master course content on their own. But, unfortunately, many students know little and seldom use effective learning techniques, and often rely on cramming before tests. As a result, they struggle to meet tough deadlines for their numerous academic papers and even start thinking about something like “Is it possible to do my assignment online?”

There is a common misconception that long hours of studying are the only path to being a successful student. In fact, mastering effective study habits makes it easier to learn new material and retain it for longer. This approach also allows you to save tons of time when preparing for tests or writing academic assignments.


What to Do to Succeed

It’s common for today’s students to do a lot of multitasking, but it’s just a waste of a lot of precious time on context switching when your brain has to restart and refocus. There are other ineffective learning techniques that give the illusion of mastery:

  • Reading and rereading textbooks;
  • Blocked practice when you review repeatedly one topic before moving to the next one;
  • Massed practice when you study a certain subject for a long time and repeat the phrases many times to memorize them;
  • Reviewing study notes;
  • Underlining or highlighting important concepts in articles and books and then reviewing them.

So what should you do instead? You should work for shorter periods at a higher intensity, without any distractions from social media, email, etc. Let’s have a look at study methods that really work.

Most Effective Leaning Techniques

Multiple pieces of research have revealed that high-intensive study techniques increase retention, so you should definitely incorporate them into your daily study habits. In spite of the fact that they initially slow down learning and require a lot of effort, these methods lead to long-term mastery.


Tests can act not only as measurement tools but also prompt learning on their own. If you take a test and answer questions before studying a certain topic, you will enhance your future learning. Research has revealed that even if you fail in the pre-test and answer questions incorrectly, it significantly improves learning if you get feedback or related instruction.

Paraphrasing and Reflecting

If you simply read and reread study material, you may spend a lot of time on these activities only to realize that you didn’t retain a single key point or a concept that was presented there. Reflecting and paraphrasing are intentional learning strategies that will help you overcome this challenge. You may ask questions about the content you have read, relate the information to your prior knowledge, or think about how you can explain the material to a child, using simple words.

Spaced Practice

Rather than intensively cramming 2-3 days before the exam, you should try to distribute your test preparation over multiple sessions. This method is also called distributed practice. For example, if you devote yourself to studying 2 hours a day or at least once a week, you will learn more information and retain it longer as well.

The sessions are shorter and you can focus on a small subset of material and review the information that you learned during previous sessions. As a result, that information is encoded into your long-term memory. This method also gives you an opportunity to fill gaps in your knowledge.

Interleaving Practice

Many students use the block practice when they repeat the same material multiple times until they are sure they know it well and use the same type of exercise. A better and more effective approach is to work on that material using different learning strategies during study sessions. You can also use 2 or more related skills or concepts simultaneously.


It’s one of the active retrieval practices that involve recalling information from memory as you restudy the material that you learned during previous sessions. They should make test questions for themselves as they learn a new concept, thinking about the questions that your professor might ask you on a test or quiz. You should answer all these questions during your study sessions even if you think you know answers to any of them well.

Other potentially effective learning methods are learning material while transforming it from written format into graphical and self-explanation when you create your own definitions for ideas and concepts.

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