9 Scientifically Proven Ways to Get the Most Out of Study Time

Studying? 9 Scientifically Proven Ways to Supercharge Your Learning.

For anyone in the thick of study, or about to be, science has been working hard and has found ways to help you get the most out of your study time, all backed by hefty research. Here’s how to study smarter, supercharge your learning and store the information away in your head so it’s ready to jump into your arms when you need it. 

  1. Get your heart pumping.

    When you exercise, your blood chemistry changes and your brain becomes the very happy recipient of important nutrients. It repays the favour by amping up its performance – specifically memory, attention, information processing and problem solving. Here are a couple of reasons your brain and exercise are one of the great love stories:

    •  Exercise increases the levels of a crucial brain-derived neurotophic factor, (let’s call it BDNF – it’s much easier to spell). BDNF is important for the growth of brain cells, mood and learning. 

    •  Exercise releases a powerful cocktail of important hormones including serotonin (the mood booster), dopamine (for learning and attention) and norepinephrine (for awareness, attention and concentration). 

    Try for 20-30 minutes a day. Anything that increases your heart rate will do the trick – running, bike-riding, walking, kicking a ball or turning up the beats and dancing it out. It doesn’t have to be beautiful, strong or graceful. It just has to be active.  

  2. Spread your study. Yep. You got it. No cramming.

    Cramming doesn’t work, which is one of the great pities – life would be so much easier if it did. The problem with cramming is that the material doesn’t get the opportunity to transfer into long-term memory. Short term memory is like the party space in your head – information is there for a good time but not a long time. When information hits long-term memory, it’s committed and there when you need it. The transfer of information from short-term memory into long-term memory takes time and repeated exposure to the material. It’s not clear why spacing your study is so much better for you, but it’s likely that over a few days you’ll forget some of the material, then remember it again when you come back to your books. This increases exposure to the information which takes it closer to long-term memory. 

  3. Know what’s to come.

    We only have a limited amount of mental resources, and during a test you want as much of those resources available as possible. The thoughts that come with test anxiety steal some of those mental resources for, you know, worrying, leaving fewer resources available to retrieve important information. Researchers have found that looking through an exam before working on it will reduce anxiety and improve performance. Remember though, that all the mental resources in the world won’t find the right answers in memory if the answers aren’t put there solidly in the first place. 

  4. Teach what you’ve learnt.

    Expecting to teach what’s been learned has been shown to be better for learning and memory than expecting only testing. It’s a subtle shift in mindset, but the effect on learning is an important one. Learning material with an intention to teach ensures that material is actively understood and stored away in memory, and not passively looked over. 

  5. Test yourself.

    Testing yourself will force you to remember information. Every time you remember something, the information becomes a little more enduring. Testing yourself might also help to take the fire out of test anxiety, in the same way that exposure to any feared object eventually makes that object less frightening.  Testing yourself on the material you’ve learned is more effective than reading the material over and over. Re-reading material might get you thinking that you’re familiar with the material, but until you try to retrieve that material from memory, you won’t actually know how well you know it or where the gaps in your knowledge are.

  6. Get some sleep.

    Sounds simple enough, but it’s not always easy when there’s so much to do. Deep sleep causes physical changes in the brain. When you learn something, your brain cells grow new connections that reach out and connect to other brain cells. This strengthens the pathways in your brain around whatever it is your learning. Sleeping after learning encourages memories of the information to be wired into your brain, so it’s less likely to fade. Think of your brain like a tree. Learning causes a branch to grow, but sleep helps it to grow the leaves and other tiny branches that will sustain and strengthen it.

  7. And ditch the all-nighters.

    All-nighters will mess with your ability to remember and process information. Sleep prepares your brain for learning, so pulling an all-nighter can cut your capacity to learn new things by up to 40% – and that’s not the only problem. Research has shown that it can take up to four days for your brain to return to normal after you’ve been awake all night. 

  8. Take a break.

    For those feeling shackled to all that is study, here is some sweet, sweet news. Taking a short break after every hour of learning is better than working straight through as it improves your ability to focus on a particular task without being distracted. Research has found that the greatest improvement come following 15 minutes of moderate activity (jogging, a brisk walk, dribbling a ball) but improvement was also shown following vigorous activity (running, jumping, skipping) or a passive break (such as listening to music or watching funny YouTube clips – because for sure that’s why they were invented). Memory is strongest for the things learned immediately before and after a break so keep those times for the tough stuff. 

  9. Power pose.

    Before a test, find somewhere private (or, totally public – up to you) and strike a power pose. Think Wonder Woman – hands on hips, legs apart; Superman – tall, shoulders back, chest expanded, arms stretched out in front of you; or that boss thing that bosses in the movies do – sitting back the bottom of one leg resting  on the thigh of the other, hands behind your head and expanded. This will reduce cortisol (the stress hormone), and increase testosterone (the dominance hormone). The mind-body connection is a strong one. If you don’t believe you can do it, act like you can – eventually your mind won’t know the difference and will have you believing you can do anything – which you can.

So, if study and you are spending a lot of time together, remember to take breaks, get some pillow time, get active, or dig for comedy gold on YouTube – whatever works for you. Maybe try a bit of everything – not for too long though – the world can’t be brilliant without you. 

[irp posts=”1463″ name=”A Message to Students In Their Final Year of School …”]

19 Comments

Lucas M

I have so much interest in your article. Thanks a lot. I admire your kind heart in sharing your knowledge.

Reply
Souhaib S

Indeed, precise and helpful advice, all tips mentioned match with the research findings especially spaced repetition, teaching others, and self-testing.
pulling all-nighters is the worst based on my own experience as well.

Much gratitude for this superb article Karen.

Reply
Karabo L

Hi,your article is good and i have a feeling that it is going to be helpful, however i wanted to ask if sleeping during the evening for about a minimum of five hours and waking up at midnight to study can be helpful or not and why?

Reply
Karen Young

Your body needs at least 8-10 hours sleep. There is a lot that happens while you sleep – the body and brain restore, memories are consolidated etc. The restorative sleep happens at the end of the sleep cycle, during REM sleep. If you aren’t getting the sleep you need, you aren’t spending as much time in that healing, nourishing part of sleep.

Reply
Riri

Hi, thank you very much for this article, I think it will help me lot for my exams ! Can I have the names of the scientifical studies, I would like to read them, thank you in advance !

Reply
shanya

Hey Karen…….this article is absolutely what I was looking for!!!! but can you please recommend me a study method which is effective for remembering information for a long period of time??? it would be a pleasure if you did!! and by information I meant the subjects which need a lot of patience and focus……like history and geography??……but anyways thanks and love ya!!!!

Reply
shreya

i love how the writer incorporated sweet motivation like the last sentence (the world can’t be brilliant without you.) and (eventually your mind won’t know the difference and will have you believing you can do anything – which you can.) how nice and sweet i love you guys so much, and these study tips i will live by. can’t thank y’all enough. x

Reply
Shadrach festus

Hi i find so dificult to study because get distracted. Thinking about work, money etc. What can i do.

Reply
Jess Hodgson

Just discovered your website! It is AMAZING! Can’t wait to start reading all the articles. This one was particularly relevant today as I’m just about to go into yearly exams and trying to keep everything balanced and in perspective 🙂 Thank you so much and looking forward to lots more reading x

Reply
Harrier

Wonderful article with simple, doable tips for the many tests one must take & pass in life. Thank you Karen!

Reply

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Follow Hey Sigmund on Instagram

Whenever the brain registers threat, it organises the body to fight the danger, flee from it, or hide from it. 

Here’s the rub. ‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually dangerous, but about what the brain perceives. It also isn’t always obvious. For a strong, powerful, magnificent, protective brain, ‘threat’ might count as anything that comes with even the teeniest potential of making a mistake, failure, humiliation, judgement, shame, separation from important adults, exclusion, unfamiliarity, unpredictability. They’re the things that can make any of us feel vulnerable.

Once the brain registers threat the body will respond. This can drive all sorts of behaviour. Some will be obvious and some won’t be. The responses can be ones that make them bigger (aggression, tantrums) or ones that make them smaller (going quiet or still, shrinking, withdrawing). All are attempts to get the body to safety. None are about misbehaviour, misintent, or disrespect. 

One of the ways bodies stay safe is by hiding, or by getting small. When children are in distress, they might look calm, but unless there is a felt sense of safety, the body will be surging with neurochemicals that make it impossible for that young brain to learn or connect. 

We all have our things that can send us there. These things are different for all of us, and often below our awareness. The responses to these ‘things’ are automatic and instinctive, and we won’t always know what has sent us there. 

We just need to be mindful that sometimes it’s when children seem like no trouble at all that they need our help the most. The signs can include a wilted body, sad or distant eyes, making the body smaller, wriggly bodies, a heavy head. 

It can also look as though they are ignoring you or being quietly defiant. They aren’t - their bodies are trying to keep them safe. A  body in flight or flight can’t hear words as well as it can when it’s calm.

What they need (what all kids need) are big signs of safety from the adult in the room - loving, warm, voices and faces that are communicating clear intent: ‘I’m here, I see you and I’ve got you. You are safe, and you can do this. I’m with you.’♥️
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As we emerge from the pandemic, stressors are heightened, and anxiety is an ever more common experience. We know from research that the important adults in the life of a child or teen have enormous capacity to help their world feel again, and to bring a felt sense of calm and safety to those young ones. This felt sense of security is essential for learning, regulation, and general well-being. 

I’m thrilled to be joining @marc.brackett and Dr Farah Schroder to explore the role of emotion regulation and the function of anxiety in our lives. Participants will learn ways to help express and regulate their own, and their children’s, emotions, even when our world may feel a little scary and stressful. We will also share practical and holistic strategies that can be most effective in fostering well-being for both ourselves and children. 

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The link to register is in my story.♥️
So much of what our kids and teens are going through isn’t normal - online school, extended separation from their loved people, lockdowns, masks. Even if what they are going through isn’t ‘normal’, their response will be completely understandable. Not all children will respond the same way if course, but whatever they feel will be understandable, relatable, and ‘normal’. 

Whether they feel anxious, confused, frustrated, angry, or nothing at all, it’s important that their response is normalised. Research has found that children are more likely to struggle with traumatic events if they believe their response isn’t normal. This is because they tend to be more likely to interpret their response as a sign of breakage. 

Try, ‘What’s happening is scary. There’s no ‘right’ way to feel and different people will feel different things. It’s okay to feel whatever you feel.’

Any message you can give them that you can handle all their feelings and all their words will help them feel safer, and their world feel steadier.♥️
We need to change the way we think about discipline. It’s true that traditional ‘discipline’ (separation, shame, consequences/punishment that don’t make sense) might bring compliant children, but what happens when the fear of punishment or separation isn’t there? Or when they learn that the best way to avoid punishment is to keep you out of the loop?

Our greatest parenting ‘tool’ is our use of self - our wisdom, modelling, conversations, but for any of this to have influence we need access to their ‘thinking’ brain - the prefrontal cortex - the part that can learn, think through consequences, plan, make deliberate decisions. During stress this part switches off. It is this way for all of us. None of us are up for lectures or learning (or adorable behaviour) when we’re stressed.

The greatest stress for young brains is a felt sense of separation from their important people. It’s why time-outs, shame, calm down corners/chairs/spaces which insist on separation just don’t work. They create compliance, but a compliant child doesn’t mean a calm child. As long as a child doesn’t feel calm and safe, we have no access to the part of the brain that can learn and be influenced by us.

Behind all behaviour is a need - power,  influence, independence, attention (connection), to belong, sleep - to name a few). The need will be valid. Children are still figuring out the world (aren’t we all) and their way of meeting a need won’t always make sense. Sometimes it will make us furious. (And sometimes because of that we’ll also lose our thinking brains and say or do things that aren’t great.)

So what do we do when they get it wrong? The same thing we hope our people will do when we get things wrong. First, we recognise that the behaviour is not a sign of a bad child or a bad parent, but their best attempt to meet a need with limited available resources. Then we collect them - we calm ourselves so we can bring calm to them. Breathe, be with. Then we connect through validation. Finally, when their bodies are calm and their thinking brain is back, talk about what’s happened, what they can do differently next time, and how they can put things right. Collect, connect, redirect.
Our nervous systems are talking to each other every minute of every day. We will catch what our children are feeling and they will catch ours. We feel their distress, and this can feed their distress. Our capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

Children create their distress in us as a way to recruit support to help them carry the emotional load. It’s how it’s meant to be. Whatever you are feeling is likely to be a reflection what your children are feeling. If you are frustrated, angry, helpless, scared, it’s likely that they are feeling that way too. Every response in you and in them is relevant. 

You don’t need to fix their feelings. Let their feelings come, so they can go. The healing is in the happening. 

In that moment of big feelings it’s more about who you are than what you do. Feel what they feel with a strong, steady heart. They will feel you there with them. They will feel it in you that you get them, that you can handle whatever they are feeling, and that you are there. This will help calm them more than anything. We feel safest when we are ‘with’. Feel the feeling, breathe, and be with - and you don’t need to do more than that. 
There will be a time for teaching, learning, redirecting, but the middle of a storm is not that time.♥️

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