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5 Proven Study Habits for Getting Better Grades

These science-backed study techniques will help improve your focus and your grades.

After making time for your family, friends, job, and other day-to-day responsibilities, dedicating time to studying can feel overwhelming. But with a few simple, scientifically proven tips, you can make even the shortest study sessions impactful for your next quiz or exam.

The following study tips can help you get better grades, no matter what kind of learner you are.

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Review materials within 24 hours of the lesson

Think of your memory as a funnel divided into 3 parts: sensory, short-term, and long-term.

Sensory memory

Your sensory memory is where—you guessed it—all of your 5 senses are initially processed. But they’re forgotten almost instantly, unless you make a conscious effort to remember.

If you’re paying attention, this information moves to your short-term memory.

Short-term memory

Think of your short-term memory as a 1GB flash drive—there’s not much storage capacity, and pretty soon you’re going to have to delete something as new files come in. In fact, you’ll lose about 80% of your short-term memory within 24 hours if you don’t funnel it through to your long-term memory.

Long-term memory

To push that information into your long-term memory, spend 10 minutes reviewing key points within 24 hours of the initial lesson.

By reprocessing the information within 24 hours, you’re training your brain to hold on to it for easier access. For best results, repeat these short reviewing sessions daily. The more consistent you are, the less time it takes for your brain to retrieve the information.

Setting aside 10 minutes a day is feasible for everyone, especially when you consider that the average student spends 84 to 105 minutes texting every day!

That brings us to our next tip:

Turn off and hide your cell phone

Your phone may feel like a necessary appendage, but it’s actually a distraction. When you’re always anticipating the next text, “Like,” or comment, your brain can’t effectively retain or retrieve information.

In one study involving 145 undergraduate students, the students who abstained from using their cell phones scored 10% to 17% higher on a multiple choice test and 53% to 73% higher on information recall. Studies at Kent State University showed that students who used their cell phones more had a lower GPA overall and reported higher anxiety levels.

The answer to more productive and impactful studying is simple: Turn off your phone and hide it from view to avoid temptation.

Study at the same time and day each week

Consistency has proven to play an invaluable role in reaching any goal, whether it’s acing a test or training for a marathon.

Take 5 minutes each week to look at your schedule, and block out consistent study times at least 3 or 4 days a week. Psychology Today offers a quick guide to effective time management to get you started.

So how long should you study? A common recommendation is to study for 50-minute blocks with 10 minute breaks in between, and to begin with the most difficult subject.

Remember, pulling an all-nighter is never the answer!

Listen to music without lyrics

What happens when a song you like starts playing? Are you able to remain focused, or do you start singing along in your head?

According to several studies, lyrics can actually be a distractor when performing cognitive-based tasks, because they compete with your reading comprehension. A series of studies from Taiwan also showed that music with lyrics was more distracting.

In other words, if you catch yourself using your pen as a microphone, you might want to rethink the tunes.

Use your highlighter wisely

Have you ever opened a textbook only to find the entire page was highlighted? The person who did that probably felt like they were having a really productive study session.

If done haphazardly, highlighting can be one of the worst study skills, according to researchers, because students sometimes highlight in place of actually learning and comprehending the material.

Sometimes highlighting tricks you into thinking you’ve read and comprehended the material, when all you’ve probably done is skimmed it at best. It can give you a false sense of security if you’re not actively reading and thinking about the text.

If you find that highlighting is causing you to skim the text, try taking handwritten or typed notes over the course of several short study sessions, a technique called distributed practice. Doing this involves active reading and forces you to ask yourself questions about the material.

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