Last fall, I taught a course called Academic Strategies. It is a one-credit-hour course at my university that covers topics such as note-taking, studying, and test taking. You would think that college students would run from such an elective course for something, well, something sexier than learning how to learn. But here I was with two full classes teaching some of the easiest-yet-most-effective strategies for becoming an academic superstar.

The reason I am sharing these tips and tricks with parents and families is that many of my students remarked that they had no idea that these strategies existed let alone worked so well. I consider it part of my life’s work to help as many people know about how to work smarter, not harder when in college.

And I can attest that even if your student is in graduate school, these strategies can still be helpful to them.

  • Space out study time.  Your student should be studying a little bit over time. For example, if your student commits to studying 6 hours for a test, it is better to space out that time in 1-2 hours over several days rather than study 6 hours at one time.  Cramming DOES. NOT. WORK. Your brain needs time to store information into long-term memory, and that can only happen when you brain has a break–and sleep–in between those study sessions.
  • Sleep on it. Getting at least 6 hours of sleep a night is critical to memory development. Sleep allows the brain to “sweep out” the information that is not needed, which can help in recalling the important information (such as the studying that your student has been doing over the past few days).
  • Mix up topics. Research indicates that studying different topics during a study session can help strengthen recall. Think of a baseball player who practices hitting different types of pitches during batting practice instead of just focusing on curve balls. The brain benefits from having to work a little harder to recall the information.
  • Change your environment. There is a myth that goes something like this: Studying in the exact same place each time will improve recall. Studies on memory, in fact, point to the opposite: Changing up study locations strengthens memory because it provides more environmental cues associated with what you are studying, which makes it easier to recall later.
  • Practice test. One of the most effective study strategies that your student can use is to practice recalling information. Why? Because the more one works to recall information–and even if they get it wrong initially–the “stickier” that memory will become, making it easier to recall later. Your student can practice test themselves through flashcards, quizzes, and covering up notes and rewriting them.

When I shared these strategies with students last semester, they were astounded that they worked! And they raved about how easy they were to implement even if they took more effort than skimming notes (Which does not work! Spread the word!).

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