7 Surprising Study Habits Top Students Follow (With Guides)

Last Updated on May 16, 2021 by David Shaw

student studying

If you’re looking for the more effective study habits to maximize your learning rate in the shortest time, here are 7 study habits you should learn that all top students share in common to ace their exams.

Ever wondered what study habits all geniuses have in common? A well-known habit is implementing active recalling while studying to retain most of the new information fed into our brains. Following a short, daily study schedule is vital and compliments your active recalling efforts. Learning how to cut off distraction also keeps our study schedule on time

Tired of hearing the same boring method of repetitive practice, or do more homework or pay more attention in class? You came here because none of them worked out well for you, so here are some study habits you’ve never heard of that can change the way you study effectively forever.

Practice Active Recalling

So what is active recalling? The core strategy is in the name: recall. With active recalling, you teach your brain to recall new information effectively which enables your brain to fetch information more readily and easily. By constantly training your brain to fetch new data, you not only understand the materials but can now retain them longer in your memory.

So forget about constant repetition and practice over the same materials you just covered 15 minutes ago. Active recalling counter-intuitively enhances the approach to new materials to learn more in one homework revision session. By forcing your brain to recall fresh information, it reenacts similar conditions one is subjected to when under pressure like during an exam, which makes active recalling possible for everyone.

Why does this method work? From a scientific explanation, we build more neurons in our brain the more information we take in, active recalling strengthens these neuron connections and teaches our brains how to effectively navigate through these links to fetch the data we need. More law and medical students are practicing this study habit today to maximize their informational-intensive major effectively in lesser time. For an in-depth explanation of active recalling’s legitimacy, here’s a helpful video with backed-up study evidence to reaffirm the effectiveness of active recalling.

Put Distractions Away

The biggest culprit of every student’s source of distraction today is always their smartphone. A renowned case study on the effects of smartphones on student’s test performance conducted by Adrian F. Ward consisting of 800 students of smartphone users.

The title of the experiment named ‘Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity’ had students in the first experiment take a series of tests with full concentration and cognitive capacity in a classroom hall. Before the test, the subjects were given choices to put their phones on their desk face down, in their pockets or bags, or in a separate room. After the experiment, the authors concluded that subject participants who left their phones in a separate room performed significantly better than those who kept their smartphones physically nearer within their sight.

In the second experiment, the experiment concluded that participants identified as less dependent on their smart devices performed exceptionally better than the rest identified as more dependent on their smart devices.

What this experiment effectively tells us is that it’s crucial our smartphones are needed to be put away while studying to maximize our study sessions from any technological distractions. Similar reliable sources from The Telegraph and CNET back this claim and study, so you shouldn’t be needing more counter-arguments for this one.

Prioritize Review of New Materials

Reviewing new materials promptly on the same day is a habit more students should know about. Have you ever encountered the feeling when a lecture for a difficult subject sounds easy and digestible until you realize you have not retained most of the lecture materials a day after reviewing it? Understanding and digesting a new lecture well is on your professor’s end, it’s just like how a good story is easy to follow while being entertaining.

What we’re after is the spaced repetition learning method. There’s a forgetting curve our brain functions upon for new materials we take in. Below is a graph illustration of what a forgetting curve looks like.

Reviewing new materials promptly helps reverse the effects of the forgetting curve in order to us to retain new information easily.

Most of us are good at interpreting and processing lecture materials, but often do not realize we are not as good at retaining them. Hence, that is why reviewing new materials by promoting spaced repetition is important as it helps you familiarize and pick up information they want your brain is used to, and not how the way your professor interprets it.

Follow Strict Schedules for Revision

You might hear this often, but there are effective ways and strategies to plan revision sessions that have specific timeframes and reasons behind them.

Hint: the amount of time you only need for revision may surprise you

According to studies, our attention span is approximately only 20 minutes long, and experts concluded only 3 sets of 20-minutes repetitive study sessions will be sufficient to you make you a top student! That is only half the duration of your favorite Netflix episode show.

You can apply spaced repetition to almost every application other than learning. By splitting study sessions into little spaced repetition sections, it is far more effective than a 2-hour long revision in one sitting.

Ask for Help Only When Stuck

Getting stuck is different from not knowing certain class materials, we often can research or review when we don’t know some topics but cannot move on if we are stuck. Getting stuck comes only after ample research, and those are two different situations.

Put in the work before we know whether are we stuck or just haven’t put in the adequate effort yet. Top students never waste time on materials they are stuck with, instead, they bring it up to their professor or friends! To be like a top student, do your part in reviewing your note, bookmark the parts you are stuck with, move on and you’ll be done with homework or revision for the day sooner than you think!

Keep a ‘watch-list’ of Difficult Topics

After the first 4 weeks of your semester, chances are there will be a few topics that just don’t click well with you. A wise approach is to highlight these topics in your journal or Google Sheets. Make a tidy list of these topics to look back onto by reviewing them from time to time, this is the only time where repetitive practice plays out if you implement active recalling in your study habits.

A Medical Student and Youtuber Ali Abdaal is a top student at University of Cambridge shares how he keeps a watchlist of topics to look back on with Google Slides

Watchlist table of class materials

Here, he lists the chapter topics on the left and marks the respective dates he revised them, and finally colors the dates from green to red. Darker colors would represent how hard or how less he retained for the specific topic, which he will look back onto time to time to improve on them.

This is the best method for how we should map out subjects or topics we are weaker at to look back on them to combat the forgetting curve.

Prioritize Sleep

Everyone knows the importance of sleep, but let’s dive into the specifics to better understand why students need more sleep to perform better at school. The CDC recommends 8 to 10 hours of sleep per day for teenagers. A healthy sleeping schedule improves our immune system, balances hormones, boosts metabolism, and improves brain function.

A healthy immune system and metabolism help you stay mentally focused and motivated. Producing good hormones share similar effects to your favorite dessert, they can simply spice up the mood like after eating a pint of good ice cream. Sleep is what regulates the healthy development of these features in your body, don’t mess with your sleeping schedules because the effects of sleep deprivation will cost you greatly soon down the road.

There’s a lot going on in our physical development in our late teens, so the next time you throw a tantrum from mood swings, you most probably need a good sleep and not put up a scene.

Final Take

If you incorporate working smart while working hard, there is no doubt you will enjoy the process of learning new materials in the shortest amount of time. By practicing active recalling, you will undoubtedly follow the same footsteps of top students. The goal is to never stop learning, and you will soon discover your interests.

A famous quote by March Anthony said, “If you do what you loveyou‘ll never work a day in your life.” If we can enjoy the things we do in college, we will not feel the pressure of working for good academic performance anymore.

David Shaw

I enjoy blogging about the college experience, teaching people how to navigate and hack their way through college. I also enjoy promoting financial literacy among young individuals.

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