Study Less for Better Grades

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There’s only so much you can eat at one time. Gorge yourself and you’ll end up tossing your proverbial cookies. Psychology shows that your brain works similarly. Try to shove in too much new info at one sitting and you’ll get brain barf. Well, not barf exactly, but your noggin will not thank you for it. In fact, you’ll end up interfering with your ability to recall the first info you studied. Here’s how you can fix it, while studying less and remembering more!

  1. Set a timer (watch, cell phone, sun dial, online stopwatch, whatever) for thirty minutes and study. When the timer sounds, finish up the thought/idea you were studying, then …
  2. Take a five minute break and do something interesting and rewarding.
  3. Start another thirty minute study session.
  4. Begin by forcing yourself to recall what you’ve already studied. If you can’t recall it, spend some time getting it down again. Once you can do that perfectly, go on to new material to round out your thirty minutes.
  5. Repeat repeatedly.
  6. Revel in your easily won erudition.

This method uses several different psychological methods to maximize your study time*. As you might expect the frequent breaks refresh you, but you must do something completely unrelated to what you were studying in order to get the benefit. There is actually quite a bit of research on this. I start with a thirty minute study session and a five minute break, but research shows that your breaks can be between two and fifteen minutes long. Break for less than two minutes and you don’t get much benefit; break for more than fifteen minutes and you forget too much of what you were studying. As you become fatigued, increase the length of your breaks. Bonus: do something really fun on your breaks and use that as a carrot to get you to study more. “Okay, thirty minutes more, and I’ll reward myself with something gut-bustingly funny.”)

Study sessions should be between twenty minutes and one hour. Study less than twenty minutes and you’ll have a hard time covering a complete idea; study more than one hour and you could be benefitting from more frequent breaks.

Reviewing previous study sessions immediately following your break is a must. That will really glue the info to the inside of your cranium.

Combine this with flashcards and mnemonics to make yourself freakishly smart. Don’t take my word for it though. Try it!

*the Primacy and Recency Effects, Von Restorff Effect, and Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve , among others.