Executive Function Strategies Blog

Five Ways to Study Smarter in College

Editor's note: We asked Michele Hearn, Director of Adult, College and Distance Coaching, what advice she has been giving to college students heading toward final exams. Below, she offers her top five strategies to get through those last weeks of the semester with less stress. Share with your favorite college (or high school) student!

The last month of the semester doesn’t have to be about cramming. In fact, researchers say those long, suffering hours are not the way to go if students want to end a semester strong. For better results, students should try these strategies instead:

Chunk it.

Are you struggling with time management, shifting from one task to another, or procrastination? Longer doesn’t mean better. Break study time into 20-40 minute increments with 5-10 minute breaks between each study session. Breaking down the course information and study time into smaller pieces helps the brain digest new information and can help students approach studying with less dread and anxiety.

Add cardio.

Speaking of breaks, using a little down time to exercise is an excellent strategy to improve attention, processing speed, and memory (it all has to do with blood chemistry and circulation aiding cognition). A daily 20 minute run/walk can help boost academic performance and improve relaxation – a plus for students who are anxious about taking final exams.

Throw in some tunes.

Disorganized Room

Music has long been advocated as a great way to boost everything from concentration and memory to productivity, while also increasing relaxation levels and enhancing mood. The trick is to listen to tracks paced at 60 bpm (think Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” or check out Brian Eno’s “Music for Airports”). Tracks at this tempo activate both hemispheres of the brain helping information process more efficiently.

Change study locations and study in groups.

Forget a favorite study spot. Studying smarter requires alternating study locations to boost recall. Adding others to the mix furthers the effect – what better way to actively study than by discussing course content, problems, and solutions? Word of caution: Simply listening for the correct answers is passive, so students need to prepare to perform as a team player in study group sessions.

Set the alarm and sleep.

Sleep is critical for memory and focus, so students need to apply the “work by day and sleep by night” principle for optimal studying and testing. Cramming at the expense of decent sleep does not guarantee better results and can actually derail an academic performance. Especially during finals, students should dedicate regular time for chunked daytime study sessions and strive to keep a sleep schedule. Eliminating caffeine at least 3-5 hours before bedtime will help.

Michele Hearn, Director of Adult, College, and Distance Coaching


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