Tips for effective, efficient studying

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Adapted from Khan Academy

We’re going to guess that you can name a few things you’d rather be doing than cracking into exam season. Studying can be both frustrating and difficult, not to mention boring. Thankfully, there are some things you can do to make your study time more efficient (waste less time!) and effective (do the right things!).
Khan Academy asked high school students how they prepare for tests and demanding assignments. Here are some of their recommendations, which we hope you’ll find useful and inspiring as you embark on this challenging time of the academic year.

HOW TO… understand the material

Teach and learn:
  • Use online resources.“Looking up videos on websites such as YouTube and Bozeman Science helps me to study and understand concepts more profoundly so that I am completely comfortable with the material.” – Eillen
  • Use your own words. “I find that the best way to study content is to read about it while taking notes, and then explaining the notes and information to myself as if I were teaching it, in order to understand it in my own words.” – Fariha
  • Try teaching the concepts to someone else. “If you can’t find someone to teach it to, teach it to a blank wall or stuffed animal – anything works. You can also film yourself teaching these concepts (film yourself discussing what happened during a certain war, film yourself on a whiteboard solving a math problem and explaining why you’re doing everything you’re doing, etc) and then to go back and watch it and see where you’re hesitant (hesitating means you’re not as confident on that part) or if you’ve left out any information.” – Elyse
  • Make learning interactive.“To make studying enjoyable, it’s important to make learning interactive. For instance, I use screen recording apps to create my own lectures, and post them on a private website so that I can watch them later to review. Also, the process of recording these videos helps reinforce concepts in a way that suits my learning style. This allows me to participate in your learning process, which makes studying more fun in general.” – Gaeun
  • Talk it out. “If you happen to be studying at school, use your friends as resources. Talk out the steps to solving a math problem, explain a scientific concept, or discuss the structure of your essay. Verbalizing concepts and ideas can help solidify them and make them easier to complete and understand later on. Studying with a friend may even be beneficial for both of you!” – Emily
Put everything on paper:
  • Be prepared. “Always have a paper and pencil with you to note down anything that comes to your mind.” – Rushi
  • Take notes. “I find it crucial to take good notes. I always make my own personalized textbook for every subject, which includes important ideas I’m learning, personal comments about them (especially in subjects such as literature or history), and the mistakes I’ve made in the past on tests or on essays. It’s also helpful if you write down mnemonic devices in the margins, such as a memorable quote made by someone in class, to memorize dates or formulas. – Gaeun
  • Use technology. “I like to digitalize the content of my notes by saving them in iCloud, Google Docs, or Evernote. This enables you to access your notes on other devices or in other locations. A few weeks before big tests, good, organized notes turn out to be very useful.” – Gaeun
Get creative:
  • Have fun. “I have learned to have fun with my notes. I personalize them so that they help me. Sometimes, instead of scribbling everything my teacher says during a lecture I will draw pictures that I associate with the topic (probably the only time doodling in class is considered acceptable). For example, we were recently reviewing a cardiovascular unit in Anatomy. Instead of writing out the steps of blood flow through the heart, I drew a basic diagram of the heart and labeled arrows directing the path of blood flow. Instead of having some abstract concept in my head of the path of blood, I could more deeply understand the concept with the visual aid.” – Eillen
  • Use color. “I’m the type of person who learns by writing things out, but writing things over and over again can be a bit dull. I am able to make it through these study sessions by using different colored thick markers; it makes studying seem more like an arts and crafts project plus writing in markers is much easier than writing in pencil. I spend time making diagrams and coming up with fun mnemonic devices for things that need to be memorized.” – Tiffany
  • Try recording yourself. “Read your notes into a voice recording app, and replay them as you do something else. The combination of reading something and hearing it again is more effective than reading alone.” – Erin
  • Challenge yourself. “For people who are competitive like me, challenging myself and making studying a competition is what keeps me engaged. I like to use Quizlet flashcard sets because they have an option where the cards are shuffled and turned into a matching game. In my opinion, making studying a competition or game is the best way to keep me engaged.” – Kennedy

HOW TO… stay focused

Remove temptation:
  • Turn off your phone. “How do we avoid falling into the trap of social media and internet distractions? I’ll tell you one way to do it. Take that phone, turn it off, put it in another room, and detach yourself for a few hours – it won’t kill you.” – Eillen
  • Commit to study time. “To stay focused, I turn off all my devices, and just allocate some time to just study. I tell myself that I can’t stop until the time is up, regardless of if I know the material or not.” – Neil
  • Take breaks when you need them.“During the weekends, I know that I won’t get any work done during the day, because I won’t have the motivation to finish my work until it becomes urgent. Therefore, I forget about my homework and allow myself to have fun and relax. This prepares me for the time when I finally have to get to work and finish my homework and study.” – Alexis
Keep things fun:
  • Get in the zone with music. “Music without vocals helps me focus while I study. I explore other genres that I don’t get much exposure to – flamenco music, Indian classical, erhu solos, minimalist, etc. It’s a good opportunity to expand your cultural horizon while providing a non-distracting drone of sound.” – Eric
  • Treat yourself. “To make studying fun, I take breaks every 20 minutes. I’ll get up and stretch, treat myself to a snack and a YouTube video, or clean up my room (because organization is everything!). I’ll continually re-evaluate my progress, just so I know that I’m going somewhere with all the time and energy that I’ve invested.” – Heeju
  • Mix it up. “Taking lots of breaks while studying to do something completely different – going out for a jog, playing some piano, listening to some music – helps make learning more efficient by allowing for a memory refresh and refocus.” – Jody

Other tips

Understand what you know and what you don’t know:
  • Review your mistakes thoroughly. “The most important thing you can possibly do when preparing for exam season is to review your mistakes. It doesn’t matter if the mistake you made was silly or if it happened because you were genuinely confused. All mistakes should be recorded and reviewed. For the math and reading sections, write down or cut and paste the questions you missed, and make sure to solve the problems once more after initially writing down the correct solution. A strategy that helped me was to create my own reading sections out of a set of hard passages and questions.” – Gaeun
  • Create a routine. “The most helpful thing I do is to practice a single section a day and go into each problem I missed in detail – then I did full length practice tests every other week in the last two months before the actual exam.” – Aneesh
  • Practice at the edge of your ability.“Try to find the hardest problems, and solve those. If you can’t do them, take some steps back.” – Rushi
  • Skip the hard ones.“If you don’t know a question, skip it. Sometimes, things don’t “click”, and that’s alright. Just keep going and go back to the question later. Most of the time you’ll realize that it was actually super easy!” – Clayton
  • Memorize the formulas. “Know your math formulas! There are some that are super helpful and key which are easy to find online and easy to memorize. Those can be super helpful.” – Alexis
Keep on practicing!
  • Practice! “The best way to study is to practice. Practice, practice, practice. Oh yeah, and did I mention to practice? Practice taking parts of the exam in a testing environment. Time yourself. Check your answers once you’re finished. If you got a question wrong, understand why you got it wrong. The practice won’t do you any good if you don’t understand what you did incorrectly. Find out what you’re good at and not so good at. Work on your trouble areas. I guarantee that with practice, your score will improve.” – Eillen
Take advantage of all resources:
  • Take ownership – ask questions. “Exam season is a big deal, but you are the one who ultimately decides how much you want to freak out about it. Talk with older people about your doubts and concerns. They will certainly have some useful advices” – Emily
  • Take initiative – go for it! “Practice tests and questions are available online, in bookstores, and at school. The materials you need to do well on the test are all available to you, you just need to have the initiative to take advantage of them.” – Eillen
Do it your way:
  • Take control. “You have to study at your pace. Don’t be scared if a peer knows or understands more than you. You might just have to learn that thing another way. Think about how you like to learn and that’s how you should study.” – Ryann  
  • Know what works for you and stick to it. “If you learn best in groups, hold a group study session and exchange solutions with friends. If you learn best by writing things down, write down the math formulas in fun colors. Begin studying by doing what is best for you and then work your way up to taking official tests in the environment that you are expected to take the test in. That way, you can learn what your favorite strategy is and perfect it.” – Tiffany


  • Tips for effective, efficient studying (article). (2015). Khan Academy.

NOMA Marketing Consulting adapted, through small textual modifications, the original text to be more directed towards university students going through exam season. NOMA does not claim the overall ownership of this text.
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