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  • Writer's pictureDrew Davis

3 tips for successful studying

School is hard! It’s not easy focusing while at school, but what about at home? Early on in their educational journeys, students are expected to begin learning on their own outside of the classroom. Studying solo is flexible, but it also brings its own challenges. Students can work when they want to, whether that’s in the morning or later in the

day, at the library or at home, and with or without family or friends. These expectations without guidance can be challenging or overwhelming, particularly for students with less educational resources and less access to supervision and transportation. But with a good study plan, study time can be maximized for any student. This begins with creating a personal schedule and deciding on which ways to study. Here are a few approaches to studying that students and teachers alike can keep in mind when deciding how, when, and where to study.

1. Active > passive learning

At first, students are usually exposed to information through reading or in class. The information is presented to them and when they hear it for the first time, they begin to understand it. This is called “passive learning,” called “passive” because the learner is being presented with information but not actively challenging their mind to remember the information or apply it to any questions or scenarios.

The opposite would be “active learning,” where the learner challenges themselves to remember or use information they’ve already seen or heard.

Examples of active learning include:

- Flashcards: Where does a car drive? (Flip over and see “The street”)

- Solving problems: Use “street” in a sentence (I hold my mom’s hand when I cross the street)

- Teaching: Explaining an idea or concept to yourself or someone else (The street is where cars drive)

Active learning can feel like it takes more mental energy, but that extra work actually helps students remember information longer!(1) Trying to work active learning into a study routine will help get the most out of studying.

2. Spacing > cramming

How about the timing of when students learn? If there’s a test on Friday, is there a difference between studying one hour on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday or studying four hours on Thursday?

It turns out this question is more personal. Scientists that study learning have found a “spacing effect” where multiple study sessions spaced out over time show more knowledge retention than the same amount of study time all done at once.(2) Learners should reflect on their experiences with learning here, asking themselves “Can I focus well for more than 30 minutes? What about an hour?” For most people, it is difficult to keep focus and continue applying themselves at 100% for extended periods of time. Showing our brains smaller amounts of information per day can also give our brains more of a chance to remember what was learned that day, but it is important to reflect on how each person learns best and what their schedule allows for on any given week.

3. Distractions: Less is better

A learner’s surroundings while they study are a third important point to consider. This includes where to study and what distractions might be around (are other people around? Is the TV on? Are you looking at social media?). Some people like to study alone and in silence, while others prefer to be around more things going on. Some studies show that students who split their attention while studying, which some might call “multitasking,” score a bit lower on exams than students who report studying with fewer distractions around. This doesn’t mean studying in complete silence is required! It means that studying is more effective when a learner’s full focus is on their learning, and when students feel they need a break they should absolutely take one. This means that learners get the most out of their studying when they are in an environment that lets them focus on their work while minimizing distractions.

There are lots of ways to study, but there is certainly more to life than studying! So keep those three tips in mind when thinking about studying. These three points can be very helpful guidelines to figure out how to make studying work best for a learner. Mixing in active learning, spacing, and a learning environment with less distractions can make studying easier and faster.

If you are interested in looking into different learning styles more, check out some of these resources!

2. High school and college:

Drew Davis

Medical Student, Drexel University College of Medicine


1. Walck-Shannon EM, Rowell SF, Frey RF. To What Extent Do Study Habits Relate to Performance?. CBE Life Sci Educ. 2021;20(1):ar6. doi:10.1187/cbe.20-05-0091

2. Jacoby LL. On interpreting the effects of repetition: Solving a problem versus remembering a solution. Journal of verbal learning and verbal behavior. 1978;17(6). Doi:10.1016/S0022-5371(78)90393-6

Image 1: Photo by Dan Barrett on Unsplash

Image 2: Photo by Nubelson Fernandes on Unsplash

Image 3: Photo by Jazmin Quaynor on Unsplash

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