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21 study tips to help you knuckle down and be brilliant

21 study tips to help you knuckle down and be brilliant

It’s end of year exam time and chances are you need all the study tips you can get. Especially if year 12 exams are looming and you’ve never read a list of study tips before. Oh, I really hope that’s not you right now, but just in case it is: take a deep breath, relax, it’s not the end of the world. Promise.

Okay, now that we’ve calmed the frantic year 12er who is pretty much paddling without an oar right now, let’s get down to dispersing brilliant study tips. Before you read through the list, I thought I’d give you the most important of all the study tips up front: do the work. ‘Cos reading about study tips is not the same thing as actually studying. Not at all. Do the work, people, do the work.

Awesome study tips backed by science

1. Know why you’re here

Why are you studying? I know it seems like a bit of a moot question, but it’s really not. Answers like “because I want to get a good mark” are not going to cut it. Answers like “because my parents /teachers/ friends / bosses want me to get a good mark” even less so. The exam mark is a means to somewhere important to you, and that’s where you need to put your focus. “I’m studying because a good mark will boost me on my way to becoming a veterinarian” or “I’m studying so I can prove to myself that I can do better” is where we want to start.

2. Give yourself time

You might think you can cram everything you need to know into your head the night before an exam, but the science says otherwise. Aside from the fact that a lack of sleep the night before a test is a really bad idea, there are other considerations. “Taking the time to elaborate and assign meaning to information allows easier recall,” says Amy Reichelt from RMIT University.

++ Read more: Why cramming the night before rarely works ++

3. Make a timetable

If you’re a student, you might think you’re over timetables, but you shouldn’t be. A study timetable will help you get into a routine and focus on your work. And, maybe more importantly, will get you off the hook when study time is over.

Study tips - have a timetable

4. Set up a quiet place to study

When I was at uni (psychology, thanks for asking), I kidded myself that I preferred studying at the back of my favourite pub. You can see where this is going. You might think that you can ‘block out’ external stimuli, but believe me, it’s much better when you don’t have to. Sure, you might be able to rote learn maths formulas while listening to heavy metal, but you’ll probably do much better not listening to heavy metal. Trust me, the science says it’s true.

5. Collaborate and listen

Studying is generally a very solitary thing to do, but not always. Gather a few of your classmates together to revise work together. Share study notes, test each other, explain key concepts to each other and make up silly songs to remember important facts. Like most things in life, studying is much more fun when it’s done with others. Just remember point #1 above: remember why you are there and focus on the work.

The exam mark is a means to somewhere important to you, and that’s where you need to put your focus.

6. Write things down

Writing it down helps us recall things far better then typing on a laptop alone. If you’ve got all your study notes typed out, try taking additional notes from them in handwritten form. “There is something about ink and paper that prompts students to go beyond merely hearing and recording new information—and instead to process and reframe information in their own words,” concludes the Association for Psychological Sciences.

Study tips - write things down

7. Learn by association

It’s hard to learn stuff that you’re just not that interested in, so try linking what you need to know with what you already like. If you know every Pokemon that was ever drawn, try matching each one with a chemistry term you need to remember. Pikachu = potassium; metagross = magnesium; Archeus = aluminium, etc.

8. Go back to kindergarten

Sometimes studying is a whole lotta boring old rote learning that can’t be avoided. To learn concepts, formulas, names, lists and definitions off by heart, take a leaf out of a kindergarten kid’s sight word learning bag of tricks. For starters, stick a gold star on the back of your bedroom door every time you master something new. Babyish, yes. Effective, yes! Here are a couple more ideas, but find loads more here:

• Post notes at every doorway. You can only enter if you can recite what you need to know off by heart.

• Put key concepts on a hopscotch grid and say them out loud when you land on them.

• Put study notes where you can read them every time you go to the loo!

9. Release your inner nerd

Now is the time to embrace being a total nerd and attending every study group your school or library is hosting. Ask questions, share ideas, get your head down and focus. You can go back to being cool after your exams.

Like most things in life, studying is much more fun when it’s done with others.

10. Go with the flow

Take your longhand written notes (see #6 above) and turn them into a flow chart. This, then this, then that. See how easily you can succinctly write out what you know in this format. It’s a great visual aid, but it will also help you clarify your understanding of each topic.

11. Sleep on it

You may be tempted to stay up all night, cramming as many facts into your head as possible, but no. It’s not worth it. There’s no way you will be able to perform at your best without a good night’s sleep. You might learn five new facts you didn’t know before, but you’ll be struggling to recall the 99 facts you already knew.

Those annoying scientists that keep raining on your parade have found that the better the sleep, the better the test scores.  Oh, and they’ve also found that if you study just before you go to sleep, your brain keep processing the information while you sleep for better retention. Nice!

Study tips - sleep on it for better memory retention

12. Feed your brain

If you want to be a brainiac, you’ve got to eat food your brain likes. Nope, sorry, not Big Macs, coke and chips. Junk food has actually been found to fog your memory – the last think you need when you’re trying to memorise info for an exam. Instead, eat unprocessed wholefoods with plenty of vegetables and fruits to inject some brain-tingling vitamins and minerals. You know the drill.

13. Go for a walk

Not only can exercise boost your health and mood, it can also boost your memory. Take a walk around the block and assign different things you need to know to various points along your walk. When you’re in the exam, ‘go for a walk’ to remember the concepts. According to our friendly scientists, taking a walk 20 minutes before an exam can also get your brain zapping, ready to perform at its best.

To learn concepts, formulas, names, lists and definitions off by heart, take a leaf out of a kindergarten kid’s sight word learning bag of tricks.

14. Talk it out

Instead of quietly reading over your notes, try reading them out loud. Studies have shown that we are more likely to send information to our longer term memory and better recall it when we hear it. Plus, reading notes aloud will help you focus on the task at hand.

15. The mpower mof mnemonics

Weird word that gets great results. Mnemonics are things like patterns, letters, ideas or associations that helps us remember something. Some well-known mnemonics are:

•  Roy G Biv is a mnemonic that helps us remember the colours of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.

•  Every Good Boy Deserves Fruit is a mnemonic to remember the order of notes on the treble clef: E, G, B, D, F (Good Boys Deserve Fruit Always does it for the bass clef).

•  PEMDAS or Please excuse my dear aunty Sally is a mnemonic for remembering the order that alegebra operatives should be used in: parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, adding and subtraction.

•  I before e except after c is a mnemonic to help with spelling (although there are so many examples that this one doesn’t fit with that you’ve gotta wonder why it’s still around!) 

You get the idea. Have fun coming up with your own mnemonics to remember important facts and figures for your exams.

Study tips - use mneumonics to remember information

16. Power of music

It’s not really a good idea to listen to music while you study (yep, the scientists are all over that one too), BUT music can help you remember things. We’ve all astounded ourselves at our recall for lyrics at one time or another. Try setting your facts to the tune of your favourite song. Children’s nursery rhymes and Eminem raps are especially good for this.

17. Take a break

If you find yourself zoning out when trying to study, it’s time to take a break. Even a short 10 minute break will help bring back your focus. The Pomodoro Method is a great one for getting into a regular break routine.

Here’s how it works: The Pomodoro Method for homework


18. Test yourself

Gather as many old tests as you can get your hands on and do them! Your teacher will have plenty, or you can find loads online. It can be daunting to force yourself to sit a test, but practise really does make perfect. Don’t be too worried when you don’t have all the answers. That’s exactly why you’re testing yourself. Find the gaps and focus your study to fill them.

We’ve all astounded ourselves at our recall for lyrics at one time or another.

19. Take a deep breath

No doubt about it, exams are bloody stressful. Ridiculously so. Managing your stress levels is a critical part of doing well. If you’re off the charts for exam anxiety, seek help. Don’t be shy: there are loads of people waiting to help you sort things out.

If you’re like most people and fretting manageably, then make sure you’re taking care of your health by exercising, sleeping and eating right. Try some meditation to help you settle down.

There’s an app for that: 3 excellent wellbeing apps for teens


20. Block your socials

If you’re using your laptop to study, make sure you’re putting blocks on your socials. Here’s a list of apps that can help you do it. And sweet mercy, switch off all your notifications!

21. But don’t block your social

Make sure you’re making time for fun, fun, fun. You’ll study much harder if you do. Use your study timetable (see point #3 above) to put in blocks of social time with family and friends. Get out of your own head for a while! Remember that while doing your best in exams is an important thing, it’s not the only thing. Living a full, rich life is more about people than perfection.

I hope these study tips help you out with your preparations. Very best of luck with your studies!

What are your best study tips to add to our collection?

Feature image by Jazmin Quaynor; calendar by Estée Janssens; writing by fotografierende; sleep by twinsfisch; rainbow by Jesse Bowser