How To Make Studying Easier And More Effective [5 Science Backed Tips]

Hands up if you have ever found yourself considering staging an “all-nighter” in order to cram every last nugget of information in preparation for an exam, sales pitch or job interview?

For the vast majority of us this is a shared experience and one we can relate to at many stages of our growth from high school exams through to seeking promotion in our career.

Evidence suggests to make studying easier you should:

  1. Afford yourself more sleep before study sessions 
  2. Listen to music and sing whilst studying to improve retention of study material
  3. Tactically use caffeine as a study aide
  4. Study for no longer than 52 minutes before pausing for a break
  5. Take up the practice of mindfulness

To compliment good study practices you might also wish to know the optimal number of hours you should set aside to study for an exam, check out the proven metric here. 

Afford yourself more sleep to study effectively

The belief that sleep is intrinsically connected to many aspects of a healthy lifestyle has become somewhat of a hot topic in recent years. Fuelled by marketing teams worldwide and sold as a revolution despite being suspected for many decades.

And whilst the ‘mattresses in a box’ phase may be relatively new, the science supporting the benefits of getting a good nights sleep is not.

A decent nights sleep has been connected to decreased anxiety, improved concentration, and improved academic performance. Another study explored the influence of sleep deprivation upon cognitive function.

It found that even partial sleep deprivation had an impact upon attention whilst total sleep deprivation impacted long-term memory and decision making.

Any less than 6 hours sleep per night beings to bring about a noticeable decrease in learning performance.

You should also attempt to establish a regular sleep pattern (the time getting to bed and waking in the morning) as this has been proven to be as crucial to academic performance as  the impact of sleep deprivation itself.

Set your alarm as a reminder to both start as well as the end of sleep time each day of the week!

Sing to improve retention of study material

Take a moment to think about how many paragraphs of your favourite book you would be willing to bet you can recite word for word right this moment? 

And now think about how naturally it comes to sing song after song from your favourite playlist. No contest right?

Singing has long been lauded as an aid to memory and this proclamation has been backed up by many scientific studies. And with a little planning this innate ability to recall song can be used to hack exam revision.

When you need to learn or memorise entirely new terminology, concepts, or language it’s been proven that singing the information you wish to learn helps it stick.

Singing information you wish to learn vastly outperformed simply repeating the information by talking, or even rhythmic talking, in memory recall tests.

Moreover singing as a study method appears to align really well with exams as music can also help reduce anxiety, agitation and stress. All common complaints when under the pressure to perform in a test.

A cup of cappuccino with beautiful latte art on blue background. Top view, central composition.

Use caffeine as a study aide

Waking up and getting in the mindset to do anything, let alone study just wouldn’t be same without a cup of Joe (or something more specialised such as a memory drink).

Appreciated worldwide the caffeine within coffee and tea helps stimulates the central nervous system, specifically the portion of the brain responsible for planning, attention and monitoring.

This helps with studying but caffeine can also assist on the day of the exam itself.

Caffeine is also suspected to help cope with stressful situations, such as exams, by increasing concentration.

Varying caffeine sensitivity between individuals makes it difficult to pinpoint a precise quantity of caffeine that best improves studying performance.

Studies have shown however that between low (0.5mg per kg of bodyweight) to moderate (3.0mg per kg of bodyweight) caffeine intake improves cognition. For a 60kg (130lb) adult the magic range would be between 30mg – 180mg of caffeine ingested across the day.

At the top end of the scale generally up to 400mg of caffeine per day is considered safe for most adults, which is roughly equal to the caffeine contained in 8 cups of black tea.

Be aware though that it’s best not to exceed this amount if you want to be the best version of yourself.

The effect of having one too many coffees can cause restlessness, headaches or even anxiety.

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Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Practice mindfulness helps studying

It seems that no matter what good intentions are in place at the start of the day, when it comes to switching off our devices and cracking open the textbooks we’ll allow our train of thought to wander off the subject matter being studied. This distraction reduces mental performance in the lead up to exams.

It is however possible to train our minds to ignore the noise inside our heads and stay focused – and one such way to do so is to begin practicing mindfulness.

Acting as a grounding, mindfulness helps improve cognition and helps the brain to reduce distractions.

Our team have experimented using Headspace, who themselves have collected data that suggest their self guided mindfulness:

  • lowers stress by 32% after thirty days
  • reduces burnout by 14% after just four sessions
  • increases focus by 14% after four weeks
  • cuts mind-wandering by 22% after just a single session

Regardless of how mindfulness is approached it seems that results are quickly appreciated.

A further study found that two weeks of intensive mindfulness training was enough to significantly improve reading comprehension and the ability to focus.

Breaks are good during studying to prevent overloading your brain

Traditional thought would have it that the more time you spend preparing for an exam the better your outcome will be.

Yet whilst spending a lot of time studying for an important exam is never a bad idea, there is a smarter way to spend your time during preparation.

Often in our eagerness to do well we’ll burn the candle at both ends, going past the point of fatigue without really realising it.

As we become more tired it can be even more difficult to reason with our rational heads that the information being studied is just not being absorbed. This results in wasted time.

So if you were motivated and committed to study just what is the length of time that you can study well without diminished returns?

In a study of 40,000 workers who worked across the same shift pattern it was found that the most productive workers worked at their computer for 52 minutes followed by a break away from the computer for 17 minutes.

Not only were workers in this study found to be more productive with their time when breaks were taken, they were also found to be more accurate when completing tasks. For your own study session set a countdown timer to remind you when that 52 minute mark has been reached.

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