Are Your Study Methods Effective?

guest written by Michelle Deets Haynes of Clarity Learning

Have you considered whether your own study methods are working for you or against you? Study methods that consume too much time and don’t prepare you well can leave you feeling frustrated and too unmotivated to continue. Whether you’re a busy middle or high school student, a new college student, or a working adult who is juggling classes with family demands, there’s no time for ineffective study techniques.

I consider weak study techniques to be those that leave you feeling rushed, drained, overwhelmed, or bored. They leave your eyes watering while your brain wanders off. However, active, effective study methods leave you saying:

  • I really don’t mind studying this way.
  • I know this, this, and this.
  • I need to review these things here.
  • I still have time to master this material.

Here are three ways to set up and employ active, confidence-building study methods:

1. Plan ahead and study in chunks. Don’t cram. Cramming leads to mixed-up terms, forgotten steps, and that awful fog of self-doubt that settles on you during the test. It’s better to find several small chunks of time to commit a few concepts and terms to memory than to wait until you “have enough time.”

Smartphones can easily carry around your notes. Review a few pieces of material as you ride to school, wait for your parents, or wait for your own children to finish an activity. That having said, make sure you study everything together at some point in case there are terms or steps that are similar and easily confused. You’re a busy person; utilize your breaks to spread out your study sessions and avoid cramming.

2. In order to retain information, you must be alert and have the intent to retain. Get your body involved in the game. Just reading text off a website, flashcard, or page lacks the impact and retention of DOING SOMETHING with that text. Use an active website like to enter terms and manipulate them with the online drag-and-drop games or the voice recognition software.

Also, I prefer matching cards to standard flashcards. Rather than front and back cards, write the terms on one card, the definitions on another. Spread the terms out on the table. Then, similar to dealing cards, match the terms and definitions by placing the correct cards on top of each other. Between scanning for the partner cards, physically setting one card atop another, and checking the answer, you’re actively participating in your study session.

If you zone out while reading, create your study materials as you go to keep yourself tuned in. Read a paragraph and then think of two or three questions and answers. Write them on your cards or type them into your online flashcard system. Presto! You’ve become an active, alert student! No more sleepily reading and re-reading the text to absorb the data. You don’t have time for that!

3. Quiz yourself as part of your study program. Don’t be lured into that over-confident feeling of knowing something without quizzing yourself to see if you truly do know it. As noted in my blog post “Test Yourself Before You Take a Test,” research has shown that self-testing aids retention.

Flashcards can give you that, “Sure, that’s what I meant to say!” feeling. Take the next step. Read the question on the card and then write your answer on a tablet-sized white board to see if you really committed the information to memory. Digital flash cards are just as “fudge-able” and static as the old, 3-by-5 species. Pull up your digital flashcard and write your answer on a white board. Or, speak your answer into the notes recorder of your phone. Hesitations in your recording will expose any uncertainty and point to the areas that need more reinforcement.

Be active when you study. Stay alert through motion, drawing, and voice. Get creative and ask yourself, “How would I make a six-year-old do this?” Then set that up for yourself. Most importantly, ask yourself, “Am I working actively, or am I drifting?” Once you drift, you’re wasting time, and your time is too precious to waste!


About the author: Michelle Deets Haynes is the founder and owner of Clarity Learning, an in-home tutoring service that has served Orange County, CA since 2001.

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