• Have you ever felt frustrated because you spent a lot of time studying and didn’t get much out of it?
  • Are you unsure of how best to study for your classes?
  • Have you ever felt like the mark or feedback you received did not reflect how much effort you put in?
  • Does it seem like you can only remember a small portion of content you studied?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the above, you may benefit from some more efficient and effective study methods.

Four efficient and effective methods for studying

1. Determine under what conditions you work best, and adapt accordingly

To be efficient and effective with studying, you need to optimize the conditions under which you focus best; this can include both the time of day that you study, as well the environment in which you study. Pay attention when studying at different times and in different environments to figure out when and where you are the most productive, and study under the conditions that work best for you.

Tips on when to study:

  • Many students claim to be most productive at night; however, most people are actually more focused and productive earlier in the day (i.e. morning, afternoon, and early evening). Tasks like reading a textbook or a journal article, writing a paper, or working on an assignment require a great deal of concentration, and the ability to do focused tasks tends to decline as the day goes on.
  • Be realistic when setting aside time to study (e.g., it is likely unrealistic to schedule study time after 5 hours of lectures or after an 8-hour shift at work).

Tips on the study environment:

  • Most students tend to find it easy to get distracted and to procrastinate when they study at home. Studying outside of home is often more effective.
  • Some students find they focus best with a bit of noise in the background, in which case a coffee shop or a group study area of the library (e.g., the 2nd floor of the Bennett library) may work best. Other students prefer total silence when studying, in which case a quiet or silent study area (e.g., the 6th floor of the Bennett Library) may be optimal.
  • When possible, eliminate distractions like a cell phone and/or laptop by not bringing them, turning them off, or, at least, putting them away during study time.
  • Avoid listening to music while you study (especially while doing readings), as it will take up some of your attention and thus make your studying less effective.

2. Distribute your work evenly throughout the semester

For every course you take, there is a lot of content that needs to be learned in a very short period of time. It’s generally not possible to learn an entire textbook of information in a week or two. Therefore, the most efficient way to learn the content is to take it in gradually as the weeks go on—this fosters better comprehension and retention of course content.

Tips on pacing your studying:

  • When planning your study time, it will be helpful to consider the SFU definition of a "unit":  

    Each unit would generally comprise 2-3 hours of the combination of in-class and self-study time per week on average, such that a 3-unit course would generally comprise 6-9 hours per week on average, or approximately 78-117 hours over 13 weeks.  Courses with laboratories or a significant experiential learning component may require additional student work and should be expected to require some additional time. It must be recognized that learners vary in the self-study time needed for their courses.
  • Distribute your self-study time over the entire term, right from week 1.
  • Study in short time blocks like 1-2 hours at a time (take about a five minute break every half hour or ten minutes every hour), as you’ll likely be able to focus better and remember a greater proportion of what you learned, and will also be less likely to procrastinate.

3. Review and test yourself regularly

Also essential for retaining information you learn, as well as gaining a deep understanding of it, is to review on a regular basis. Reviewing can include things like reading over or condensing your notes. One of the best ways to review is to do practice questions and test yourself. Testing yourself is a great way to spend review time, as it allows you to determine knowledge gaps. This is a good idea for any class, not just problem-solving classes.

Tips on reviewing and practice testing:

  • Review notes from lectures and readings within 24 hours of learning the material, and then weekly thereafter.
  • Spend at least an hour per class per week just on reviewing (this is an important part of the 2-3 hours/credit/week that students are recommended to spend on schoolwork outside of class time).
  • When testing yourself, first push yourself to come up with an answer without consulting your notes or readings (even guess if you have to), then check your answer—this will foster better retention of the correct answers/solutions, as well as help you determine what content you need to spend more time on.
  • When doing weekly review, go back to previous practice questions that you mastered earlier in the semester and test yourself with them by mixing them up with questions from other chapters.
  • If practice questions are not readily available, make them up yourself or enlist classmates to make them up for each other.

4. Study actively

The more actively engaged you are with the content, the more likely you’ll be to remember and understand it.

Tips on studying actively:

  • For better understanding and retention of course content, bring the content to life by connecting what you’re learning to other things you’ve learned, thinking of real-world examples, and thinking about implications.
  • When doing readings, summarize the important points and write them down in your own words. Use “Cornell notes” (for more information, search “Cornell notes” on the Utah State University website) to make it easier to test yourself when doing review. Note: To distill the content down to the essential information and understand it well, it is likely that you will have to read each section more than once.

Students in front of a computer