How To Study Effectively To Retain Information

Study in college without losing your mind. 🧠

As midterms and finals start coming up, studying can seem like a full-time job. Between all your classes demanding your attention, how are you supposed to remember everything you’ve learned over an entire semester? But don’t worry—we’re here to help.

We’ve broken down the most efficient and effective ways to study, according to science. With the techniques and strategies listed, you’ll be able to effectively retain information and recall it for the test, all without totally frying your brain in the process.

Study Tips For College

While studying in college might not be the easiest or most fun thing to do, there are ways to make it better. Plus, if you plan accordingly, you’ll even be able to retain the information and recall it better. Perfect if you’ve got a big test coming up!

Avoid Last Minute Studying & Cramming For Tests

Science has shown that cramming for tests or waiting to study until the last minute doesn’t work. It puts too much stress on the brain, which pushes it beyond normal limits.

When your brain is in an overworked state, it causes an increase in anxiety, fatigue, frustration, and confusion. Because of this, you’re less likely to retain or recall information you need later. Give your brain plenty of time to relax and refocus in order to study effectively.

Study Smart, Not Hard

The adage for college students is to work smart, not hard. The same rule applies when it comes to studying for a big test coming up. Here’s some quick tips on how to be the most efficient with your study time:

  • Take old-fashioned notes (pen to paper) to retain information for longer periods of time
  • Eliminate distractions in and outside of class
  • Do your homework while it’s fresh in your mind to solidify the information (and save you time later)
  • Take care of your physical and mental health
  • Know when and where you study most effectively

Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve

The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve (also simply known as the Forgetting Curve) is a hypothesis that states as time goes on, our memory retention declines. However, there are ways to decrease the amount of information lost in the same span of time.

The two biggest helpers when it comes to retaining information are better memory representation (think mnemonic devices) and active recall studying, which we’ll explain in more detail below.

When you implement these two strategies, your chance of retaining the information you need to remember later dramatically increases, even as time goes on.

Use Active Recall Studying

Active recall is the practice of forcing your brain to search in order to find an answer, like when you’re taking a test. Since most exams are given this way, using active recall studying techniques can better prepare you in the long run. Here are the most popular forms of active recall studying:

  • Flashcards
  • Writing questions while taking notes
  • Stoping and summarizing what you just learned
  • Practice questions and reviewing past exams
  • Teaching a friend who doesn’t know anything about the subject matter
  • Not using the Internet for help
  • Spaced repetition

Active Recall & Spaced Repetition

Spaced repetition is a great way to incorporate active recall into your studying habits. This method has you review the study material at systematic intervals.

The key here is to have the intervals spaces relatively close together. When you start, the intervals should be no longer than one hour apart from each other. As time goes on, the time between intervals increases (four hours, one day, four days, and so on).

Join A Study Group

When done correctly, a study group can be a great way to retain information. Just make sure you join the right kind of study group so you don’t waste your time.

Online & Zoom Study Groups

Online and Zoom study groups are great for students who don’t have time or access to an in-person study session. By being able to log in to your computer, you can be instantly connected with people from all across the country studying the same material as you.

Having differing viewpoints and opinions will help you be able to externalize your thoughts better. Plus, the sessions will likely be more fun and help keep you accountable. This shouldn’t completely replace independent study, but it can definitely help round out your studying habits.

Buddy Up With A Study Partner

Grabbing a study partner is also a fantastic option for students looking for more study time that isn’t solo. Plus, who doesn’t want to hang out and study with one of their friends? Just use these tips to ensure your study session stays on track (and you don’t just end up chatting over coffee):

  • Have an agenda and make a list of everything you need to go over before you meet up
  • Put away your phones or any other distracting tech (TikTok can wait)
  • Choose somewhere quiet to ensure maximum focus
  • Set a time limit to keep you focused and to ensure you don’t burn out

How Long Should You Study?

The question of “how long should you study?” doesn’t have a one size fits all answer. Every brain is different with how they retain and recall information. It also depends on how much time you have in your day to devote to studying in general.

Most people agree that a good study session should last around an hour. Anything longer than that in one sitting can start to overwhelm your brain. But if we’re going to use a tool like spaced repetition, studying for three to four hours per day is the way to go. Just ensure you allow a few hours in between each session.

Preparing For A Test

So now the time has come, and you’re ready to sit down and start actually preparing for your big test. No sweat. Just remember these tools to maximize your time, and it’ll be smooth sailing while you study the material:

  • Don’t procrastinate or cram
  • Plan your studying time
  • Ask your professor for help
  • Start reviewing early
  • Prepare an outline
  • Use visual aids
  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Stay hydrated
  • Arrive early on exam day

Thinking about studying abroad while you’re in college? Check out the top ten cities to study abroad in, according to experts!