Studying Effectively

Practical advice from Hafsa Ahsan for making the most of your study time and avoiding the pre-exam panic

Effective studying isn’t about opening a textbook and learning each and every chapter by heart. In fact, when you learn everything by heart and regurgitate it during exams, you’re not really learning anything. You may get good marks, but do you realize that this method of learning is unreliable? Often when nervous, all that has been memorized is forgotten. So, what are more effective methods of studying and applying knowledge acquired during exams? Here are a few tried and tested techniques.

Mapping out ideas

Once you have read a whole chapter or part of it, simply write down the main point or central theme in the center of a sheet of paper. Then, around the main point, write supporting words or key phrases related to the central theme. This will help you remember the key concepts, without having to resort to rote learning.

Making a list of important points

If mapping confuses you, then stick to its alternative-making a list of important points. I have noticed that many students tend to write down whole essays as notes and then try to cram them. Listing is a more useful technique. Here is a small example:

Question: How has globalization affected the Third World countries?

  • Adverse effects on trade
  • Exploitation of cheap labour
  • Rise of multinationals
  • Adverse effects on the local economy
  • Loss of local languages
  • Loss of cultural values
  • Subservience to international economic organizations
  • Positive effects for the average consumer
  • Positive effects of increased flow of information

If you have noticed, each point in and of itself needs a huge explanation. Learning these phrases and then explaining them in your own words during an exam is a much better option than spending hours filling pages and pages with explanations of key words and then spending another week studying them.

Underlining important points in the textbook

You can use this technique in conjunction with the above. While you are reading a certain chapter, underline important points and explanations. Then, use the above technique to make a list of key points. When you are revising, keep the list in your textbook, so as to be able to go over the main points alongside the explanation in the textbook. Remember, learning key phrases is not the point; rather, how they relate to the main theme of what is to be learned.

Linking up related points

In subjects, such as sociology, international relations, etc., almost all chapters are inter-related. While studying, try to discover, where they are linked and chart that out in a map. When answering questions on one chapter, you can always refer to other chapters to prove your analytical and critical reading skills.

Studying with proper breaks

I hate to shatter the popular myth, but studying for fourteen hours at a stretch will not ensure that you’ve learnt more than your friend, who only put in five hours a day. Studies show that there is an optimum level of study, which can be achieved within five to six hours per day. This is where you learn and retain the maximum from what you study. Beyond this, you will discover that you hardly retain anything, but rather suffer from mental fatigue and often hardly understand what you’re reading. The optimum number of hours that can be put into studying effectively varies for every person, but the average comes to around four to five hours a day. The best thing to do is to study for a while, then take a short break and return to your books after some time.

Learning to manage time

It goes without saying that if you have only opened your textbook a week or two before exams, you can expect to put up with a huge workload coupled with bouts of panic. However, studying something immediately after it has been covered in class will ensure that in the end, when you sit down to study for an exam, you will have with you a few mind maps and lists of important points to revise for each topic. You can then make a workable timetable, giving each subject an equal amount of time. Time must be managed throughout your academic session. Try putting in one hour of study daily, after completing your assignments, and you will have no problem managing your time, when the exam time is around the corner.

Proper means ‘proper.’

According to research, the best way to relax your mind is to engage it in various activities. Put simply, it means that lying back with your eyes closed after putting in an hour’s worth of study will definitely not relax your mind. The mind can only be relaxed, if you do something different from studying. Go to the kitchen, for instance, and fix yourself a snack, pick up a storybook for light reading or go out for a quick jog – these are proper breaks between studying that will ensure a relaxed mind, when you come back to your textbook, as well as enable you to concentrate fully on the next part of your timetable.

So, here you have it – a range of techniques to help you study in a much better way. The most important thing to remember while studying is: study is for the sake of learning. If you’re only studying for the sake of exams and good marks, then you might as well stick to the rote learning system. However, if you seriously want to learn, you’ll have to let go of the conventional techniques. When is a better time to do it than now?