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Ways to Study Smarter Not Harder!

Written and reviewed by
Dr. Mehak Arora 91% (70 ratings)
MPhil Clinical Psychology, Masters in Psychology
Psychologist, Gurgaon  •  8 years experience
Ways to Study Smarter   Not Harder!

There are few things I hear over and over again from students:

  1. How they are studying for so many in a day
  2. How they do not have even time for anything else in their life due to study pressure
  3. How they are sleep deprived
  4. How much they are stressed
  5. And finally, afterall the sacrifices and hard work, their exam performance is not what they expect.

Here are few tips to study smart, improve your grades and yet have a life!
We all know that 2 hours of focused study will be much more productive than 4 hours of distracted study. And, the good news is that concentration is a mental skill that you can develop and improve. There are two ways to improve your concentration:

  1. First, work on raising your brain's natural ability to concentrate or in other words, learn to increase your attention span.
  2. Second, adjust the environment around you to make concentrating easier.

Improving your concentration takes a little time and effort, but it is worth it. In my personal experience with students, I have seen noticeable improvement in relatively short time.

A. Ideas for daily concentration boosting habits include

  1. Mindfulness meditation: Many studies confirm that 20 minutes of meditation or more per day improves concentration and attention span. Mindfulness meditation, where one focuses on one's breathing,  is one of the simplest way of meditation. Start with ten minutes in the morning and ten minutes before bed. To begin with you may try a guided meditation. One can easily find audios for guided meditation online.
  2. Proper sleep: I am sorry to say this. Pulling all nighters will not help with your grade. Unless you are getting sufficient restful sleep, you are not going to be as mentally focused as you could be to study as well as answer questions in exams.
  3. Food for your Brain: The more you use certain skills, the more they are reinforced in the brain. So it makes sense that playing concentration games and games that require you to focus will improve your concentration ability. You need to be consistent in this. Play for about 10 to 20 minutes each day. Have fun, and get the benefits but remember not to spend more than 20 minutes a day. Your goal is to improve your concentration and not just keep scoring higher in the game! Try Lumosity and use only free version this will help you restrict your daily play time to 20 minutes and have maximum benefit.
  4. Eat healthier: Your brain needs the proper nutrients to allow you to focus. Eat more vegetables and fruits and avoid consumption of junk food as much as possible. Instead, you could keep some nuts such as walnuts, almond or peanuts as in between munches. Lot of research has now proven that sugar is very harmful for our health. Reduce sugar and refined white flour in your diet as much as you could.  
  5. Exercise: It is helpful in both reducing stress and increasing energy and focus. At least 20 minutes a day would go a long way. Going for a short jog of 20 minutes will make next 4 to 5 hours of study very efficient.

B. Optimize your mental state & environment

In addition to building the habits described above into your daily routine; also adjust your environment and your current mental state to improve your concentration when studying.

  1. Create a study space: Your brain loves routine. Create a place where all you do is study. An obvious choice is a secluded desk of some kind, but the trick is to make sure you only study in that spot. Studying in bed is a bad habit, for example, because your body is trained to want to sleep once you get into bed.
  2. Remove distractions: Turn off the ringer on your phone and take other steps to prevent interruptions. Don't study with the television on or with radio playing. Some studies have shown that soft instrumental music (no vocals) can help improve your concentration.
  3. Reduce background noises: If you have to study or work in an environment where it is too loud (classroom or open space) or too quiet (such as at home or at a library) you can get easily distracted by outside influences. With the right amount of background noise you can actually block out distractions and enhance your creative thinking.
  4. Use timer: Set a time limit when you need to study new material. For example, let's say you want to read one chapter in a book (and remember it). Decide in advance that you can have 45 minutes to read the chapter, and 15 minutes to review it. Set a timer to keep yourself honest, then pace yourself to keep within the allotted time.
  5. Stay motivated: If you see studying as burden, it's hard to concentrate. One way to stay motivated is to set up a reward system. Tell yourself you have to earn that hour of watching your favorite show later in the evening by first completing 2-3 hours of intense studying. That way, even if the material is dry, you have the reward to look forward to.
  6. Take breaks: Take a break every two hours. Your mental energy will begin to decline after a long period of study. So every two hours or so, take a ten-minutes break. Walk around, eat a light snack, or just stare at the wall to relax your mind.

Concentrating is the first step to learning anything new. It only makes sense that if you improve your concentration, your memory will improve also.

How an expert can help?
If you want to get individualized expert opinion about how you are studying currently and what ways you can improve; you can always consult the expert. Once he/she knows what your current study methods are, they will be able to give you specific tips to improve upon. Most likely once you incorporate those tips you will be spending less time studying and your grades will improve. That's what is studying smarter and not harder means!! If you wish to discuss about any specific problem, you can consult a Psychologist.

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