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Top 10 Effective Study Habits for College Students

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Effective Study Habits for College Students

There are no excuses. Neither luck nor genetics is solely responsible for the fact that some students obtain better grades than others. Nor is it something against which nothing can be done. On the contrary, in large part, it may merely be due to the need to change your study habits. So, this week, we recommend a set of study habits and routines for students to learn to get the most out of and on time.

If we analyze the most effective study habits in different countries and universities, there are great coincidences that suggest a common way to become a successful student.

For this reason, we have echoed a study carried out at the prestigious Harvard University, which is currently considered as one of the best training centers in psychology worldwide.

The best study techniques

What are these techniques and recommendations that experts say help us better retain information and perform better during study hours? We list them below.

Without a doubt, the main goal of the study is to understand, retain, and interpret objective information. Therefore, according to their particularities, each person opts for different formulas, such as detailed reading, recorded classes, summaries, diagrams, notes during the study, or the use of conceptual and mental maps to interpret critical concepts and associated concepts.

And, in reality, there is no perfect recipe to study well. However, some techniques are more useful for academic performance. The study by Harvard University, published in the book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, has shown, according to their research, the most efficient.

This does not mean that, if you are wondering how to study for an examination to optimize the hours left before the exam, any of the techniques will be useful for you. You will have to test one and the other and find out which of them yields better results in your particular case.

1. Handwritten notes

It is curious that, after years of searching for visual learning techniques and designing modern and technological methods, the handwritten notes are the most suitable for retaining ideas and concepts.

Many students have opted for laptops and tablets to take notes in class. However, psychological studies and research affirm that it is easier to memorize and internalize knowledge by hand.

When you type on a keyboard, when you have the skill, it is done so fast that the brain does not process or assimilate ideas, making it more challenging to retain them. However, when doing it by hand, our mind has to think about the content, the way it writes it, and the realization of a quick summary where the most crucial thing stands out.

As you can see, with this formula, you have already made a short schematic summary of the lesson, without following the teacher’s explanation of the letter.

2. Rereading is not a good idea

If you do not know how to study for an exam, we can state that you should not use a technique that involves rereading the material. Why? Because when rereading, our brain makes no effort to remember what has been read, because it knows that later on, it will have the opportunity to retake a look.

Specialists recommend a single in-depth reading that involves an analysis of the text content. Next, we will have to make the maximum effort to remember the reader’s original content.

3. Recess and breaks

It is not a technique in itself, but it is an aspect that you should always apply. Remember that, according to the data of numerous investigations, every 45 minutes of concentration, our brain begins to lose the ability to retain and memorize information. It is time to take a break.

To keep your retention and concentration optimal at all times, do study periods of about 45 minutes and intersperse them with breaks of 10 to 15 minutes. In this way, you will recharge energy, allow your mind to rest and resume your studies with full capacity.

4. Alternate subjects

This study technique is especially crucial if you are studying a subject that feels very heavy and tedious. Avoid focusing a full day on the same subject, since, in this way, your capacity will decrease at great speed.

According to the Harvard study on which we are echoing, changing the subject from time to time, every hour, every two hours or every three, as you choose, and even changing the topic, even if it is the same course, will be beneficial and refreshing for your brain.

5. Create mind and concept maps

Now, we are going to focus on visual learning techniques. If we study, sometimes the pages full of letters, words, and notes can be a problem that discourages and prevents maximum concentration.

Therefore, techniques that reinforce more visual and schematic learning can be handy. This is the case of the use of conceptual and mental maps.

These maps, with their differences, basically take us from a primary concept from which we develop others related to it. While the mental map focuses on what is known as brainstorming, the conceptual one focuses more on relationship schemes between ideas that go from minor to major.

The good part of these study techniques is that they are based on key concepts that, in turn, are written schematically, using diagrams, geometric shapes, sets, etc. Thus we escape the monotony of studying notes and more notes.

Another option is to search YouTube for study topics, explanations, and lessons that help you internalize a topic. Not always our notes or books allow us to have the perfect understanding or to know how to study for an exam. Therefore, sometimes, it is advisable to look for other more ‘exotic’ and less formal options.

Be that as it may, find the best study techniques to optimize the performance that best suit your specific needs. Then customize them as you see fit.

How to create or acquire a study habit

How can you incorporate a study habit into your daily life? How long does it take to acquire a study habit? We are going to answer all these questions, and we will explain how you can create or acquire a study habit.

Let us begin by clarifying how the study habit is acquired. To create a habit, we must be clear that we need two things: perseverance and determination. The only way to create a habit, whatever it is, is to repeat it regularly, no matter what happens, with iron determination. Why is this so important? Because it has been shown that only by repeating a specific action every day can our brains assimilate it as a habit.

Some experts assure you that to create a study habit, it takes 21 days; however, it is scientifically proven that to acquire a habit, be it study or otherwise, you will need to repeat the routine for 66 days.

For example, imagine that you have proposed that you will have dinner every day at 20:00 and just after dinner, approximately. 20:30, you will study until 23:00, time to go to bed to read a little and sleep. This supposes a change of habits since until now you used to have dinner at 21:00 and after dinner, you used to watch TV until midnight. Carrying out this change of habits and incorporating this habit of study into your life will be an effort at first. Still, as you repeat this routine day by day, that effort will be reduced, coming to do it almost without thinking, instinctively.

To acquire a habit, in this case, a study habit, it is essential that you do not miss any day when carrying out your routine, especially during the first phase of 66 days. There may be times when it’s hard for you but take a little perspective. What if the only thing that separates you from your dream, from what you want to do for the rest of your life, is a simple routine? A routine! Isn’t it worth the effort of the beginning to achieve your goal, what you’ve always?


Unleash the Science of Learning. 2020. Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning – Retrieval Practice. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 June 2020].

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