11 Top Study Skills and Techniques: Study Smarter Not Harder

Updated February 3, 2023

Studying involves acquiring and retaining new information and can be an important practice both in school and beyond. You can continue to learn at work by taking classes and studying independently. Learning about study skills can help you make the most of these educational experiences.

In this article, we provide 11 top study skills and techniques to help you study smarter and not harder, including tips for time management, note taking and mnemonic devices. 

Top 11 study skills and techniques

Developing good study habits will help make the most of your study time. The following 11 skills and techniques will help you study efficiently and remember the things you have learned: 

1. Manage your time

Both as a student and a professional, you may have many demands upon your time. To make sure you have time for studying throughout your week, schedule study into your routine. Here are some time management tips that can help you develop an effective schedule:

  • Make a list of all the things you do each day. 

  • Look for things that are a lower priority, during which you could be studying instead. 

  • When you schedule your daily tasks, be intentional about how much time you want to commit to each task, and choose how much time you can commit to studying. 

  • Set regular goals for what you want to accomplish during your study time.

These time management strategies can help you prioritize studying and ensure that your time is productive.

Read more: Time Management Skills: Examples and How To Improve Them

2. Take smart notes

Whether you are listening to a lecture or reading a book, take notes that are more than just a repetition of the things you are hearing or reading.

  • Be selective: You may not need to take notes on everything. In a book or lecture, look for concepts that might have emphasis or headings that can help you determine major concepts.

  • Re-write: Pay careful attention to each concept, then re-write it in your own words. Not only does this demonstrate that you understand the idea, but topics may be more memorable to you when you think about them using your own language.

  • Summarize: Go back through your notes and summarize each concept in a sentence or two. This will help solidify the information in your mind and make your notes easier to review later.

Read more: How to Take Notes

3. Create a mind map

A mind map is a diagram that demonstrates how ideas relate to the main concept. You can use a mind map as a way of taking notes or organizing and summarizing them. To create a mind map:

  • Start with a concept, such as “presentation skills.” 

  • Write your central concept in large letters in the center of the page.

  • Draw curved lines branching from the central concept and write a related idea on each line. Examples include, "software,” “communication skills” or “creating visuals."

  • Add branches to each of these related ideas with further ideas. For the “software” example, you might have four branches, each with the name of a possible slideshow or other software application you want to try. 

  • Use color and pictures in your mind map to make it vivid and memorable. 

As you branch out from the main concept, make the words progressively smaller and the lines thinner. This will help you see the relationships between each one, and which ideas are more important.

Read more: What Is a Mind Map? (Plus 5 Steps To Create Your Own)

4. Lecture yourself

After taking notes, repeat aloud what you have just studied as if you are delivering a lecture on the topic. Explain the concept in your own words. Don't worry if you get stuck or forget things. Part of the exercise is to help you identify areas you don't really understand so you can review those points.

Studies show you are more likely to remember things when you engage more than one of your senses. By lecturing yourself, you include hearing as well as seeing. Using your own voice and your own words helps make the information more meaningful to you.

Related: 14 Tips To Make Self-Learning Effective (Plus Benefits)

5. Teach others

You know that you really understand a subject when you can teach it to someone else. Find a friend or relative who is willing to listen to you talk about the subject you have been studying. Encourage them to ask questions since that will help you determine how well you know the topic. You may also choose a study partner who wants to learn about the same topic. You can then discuss the subject and reinforce or correct one another's understanding.

Related: 8 Qualities of a Good Teacher (and Tips for How To Develop Them)

6. Make a mnemonic device

A mnemonic device is a learning technique in which you pair a piece of information with a catchy phrase or tune to memorize it more easily. This technique can help you transfer information from your short-term memory to your long-term memory. There are a variety of types of mnemonic devices, including:

  • Songs

  • Rhyming

  • Alliteration

  • Spelling

  • Visual

  • Organization

For example, you can find a way to make a memorable rhyme out of what you are trying to learn. If you are musical, try putting a tune to your rhyme. Music can be a powerful aid to memory. People often find it easy to remember the words to their favorite songs. 

Read more: How to Use Mnemonic Techniques for Memory Improvement

7. Reinforce

When you reinforce something, you continue studying even when you think you know it. For example, consider continuing to practice your flashcards after the test. If you know you may need to retain the information in the long term, continue to interact with the material over time. When you reinforce your understanding, you meaningfully solidify your grasp on the material. 

Related: 8 Simple Ways To Improve Your Memory

8. Break up your study time

It is tempting to study for long periods of time, especially if you have a test the next day. However, it is better to divide your study time into short periods. For example, instead of trying to study for three hours, plan to study for three one-hour-long sessions with breaks in between. Here are some benefits to this strategy:

  • Taking breaks can increase your endurance, allowing you to study for longer.

  • During those breaks, your brain can process the information you studied.

  • Break times give your brain a chance to rest so you can focus better when you resume studying.

Read more: How To Take a Break From Studying in 7 Steps

9. Ask questions

While you are reading or listening, write down any questions that come to mind. Look for answers to those questions as you continue reading or listening. If you find answers, make a note of them. If you find gaps in your knowledge without ready answers, take a little time to research and see if you can find the information yourself. This kind of active engagement with the topic will help you remember the things you have read or heard.

Related: How To Ask Better Questions in 5 Simple Steps

10. Test yourself

Testing yourself helps to exercise your memory so you not only retain the information but can also retrieve it quickly. Here are some self-testing techniques to try:

  • Look for textbook questions: Your textbook might have study questions for each chapter. If so, answer them as part of your study time.

  • Make flashcards: You can make flashcards to test your knowledge of key phrases or concepts. 

  • Make an online quiz: There are a variety of online quiz options that you may use to test yourself. You can find a quiz that focuses on the topic you're studying, or create a new quiz for yourself. 

Related: How To Study Effectively: 22 of the Best Study Tips

11. Reward yourself

Rewarding yourself for making progress while studying can be a great way to motivate yourself to continue. It takes time and discipline to study effectively, so self-motivation is important. Here are some rewards you can give yourself to help make the most of your study time:

  • Food

  • Rest

  • A walk

  • Time with friends

  • A social media break

  • An episode of television


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