Information Centre

Tips for effective studying


The exam period is a time when stress levels can be pretty high, but one of the best ways of getting through times like this is to have a good plan for how to study well, and without too many all-nighters.

Effective studying 101

Study area – having a good study area can make a huge difference to how well you learn. Study in a well-lit, quiet area, away from noises and people in the house. If this isn’t possible, it might be better to study at the library.

Make sure your desk is tidy and organised. This means you can concentrate on studying and learning, not trying to find information.

Find out about the exam – find out what format the exam will take – are the questions in essay, short answer or multiple-choice format? Is the exam open book or closed book? Knowing how the exam is marked and what proportion of your total mark it’s worth might also be helpful.

To do lists – make a to do list before each study session. Breaking tasks down into small, manageable chunks will make it less overwhelming. Cross them off as you go.

Past exam papers – ask your teacher for past exam papers. They can be a useful insight into what your exam will be like and also provide a guide for what you know and the areas where you need help. If possible, practice some under exam conditions and get your teacher to mark them.

Study groups – forming a studying group can be a helpful way to revise your notes and work through past exam questions (it can also help you feel supported, keep you motivated and focused).

If you’ve questions about your work, a study group may be a good place to have them answered. Ask your teacher/tutor if they know of anyone else interested in studying with other people.

Switch the phone or email off! – if you find that you are being distracted by the phone or emails, it might help to put the answering machine on or get others in the house to take messages for a while. You can always ring people back later.

Wallpaper – write down key concepts you have to learn on small sheets of paper followed by examples of how they are used. Post these sheets around your house, eg – your bed, on the toilet door, in front of the CD collection. This kind of immersion helps with remembering things like equations, quotes and foreign languages.

Ask lots of questions of your teachers or tutor – your teacher or tutor can help if you’re having trouble developing a study routine or need help with particular topics. Asking for help doesn’t mean you’re a failure or stupid – it’s smart to tap into their experience and knowledge to help you perform better. Keep going back to them if you’re still unsure or have more questions. It’s their job to be available for you.

Know your preferred learning style – some people work better using text based memory tools, like acronyms (eg ROYGBIV – colours of the rainbow; acrostics eg. Every Good Boy Deserves Fruit). Other people find more visual tools more useful, eg – mind maps or tree diagrams.

Take regular breaks – getting up, moving around and away from your desk at least every 50 minutes for ten minutes makes you concentrate and learn better.

Revise and learn (not just re-read) – sometimes reading through notes doesn’t result in learning or understanding. Include the following in revising each topic:

  • vocabulary, technical terms definitions
  • summaries of points
  • formulae, rules, diagrams, charts
  • ability to understand relationships
  • if you’re answering essay questions, make quick plans for how you’d structure answers on each topic

Time management

Avoid procrastination – this is when you do everything else but the task you need to do. It’s normal to procrastinate a little. However, too much can just add to your stress and result in you not giving yourself enough time to prepare. Managing your time and setting realistic goals for each study session can be helpful ways to avoid procrastinating and make tasks seem less overwhelming.

Make a study timetable – write down all the things you need to do each day of the week and how long you need for each, including time for enough sleep, relaxation and exercise. Find out the date of each exam and work out a study timetable leading up to them. Include tests that help identify gaps in your knowledge. This can give you some direction and help you focus on what to study each week or day.

Use your lunchtime – studying in the school library during your lunchtime gives you access to lots of information available on the reference shelves. Some material, such as sample solutions, often can’t be taken out of the library or can be too long to photocopy.