Studying is a necessary evil when it comes to college, or school in general. The most stressful thing about studying for a test is worrying about forgetting something important. While traditional studying generally involves highlighting and reviewing reading material on the subject on which you will be tested, this isn’t necessarily the most effective approach. It’s no secret that a strong memory is critical for optimal academic performance, but you may not realize that there are certain things you can do to improve your ability to memorize facts. When you are preparing for a test, aim to work smarter rather than harder. Working smarter means learning and then employing a variety of study hacks designed to maximize your memory and your potential for success on the test.

Study Things in Print

While laptops, tablets and other digital media are indisputably convenient, they are not ideal when it comes to studying for a test. Research shows that the best way to study for a test is to use traditional print materials. Reading on a screen typically requires you to engage in more repetition than you might need if you were reading printed material, so using printed study materials makes it easier to memorize things faster. If you don’t have access to printed study materials, create your own by hand writing notes on what you need to learn. The process of writing it down will aid memorization, and then you will have printed materials with which to work.

Break a Sweat Before You Crack the Books

Exercise may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about study methods, but it is an effective study aid. Exercise gets the blood flowing, which gives the brain a natural boost that can improve memorization. No matter how short or intense, physical activity has a direct and positive impact on cognitive function. Take a brisk walk, go for a run, get your groove on in a fitness class or hit the gym right before you are scheduled to study. After sweating it out, your body will be pumping oxygen and other brain-friendly nutrients that are sure to help you feel more alert and receptive to new information.

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Create a Reasonable Study Schedule

As common as it may be, procrastination is counterproductive to effective memorization and studying. The best way to study for a test is to take on a little bit at a time. Cramming for a test is a surefire way to lower your performance on said test. Instead, create a reasonable schedule for studying that gives you at least a week of preparation before the big day. Studying for half an hour to an hour each day leading up to the test will help you memorize the material far more effectively than if you study for several hours the day before or the day of the test.

Hand Write and Color Code Your Notes

Never underestimate the power of tactile connections. While typing notes is more efficient, writing them by hand is more effective when it comes to memorizing the information. Physically writing down notes on the topic you are studying forces you to interact more fully with the material, which helps you better comprehend it and thereby improves your odds of remembering it later. Using different colored pens to write different sections of your study materials can also aid in recall. Since illustrations can also help deepen learning, try translating new information into hand-drawn sketches and diagrams that help you process the material in a new way.

Read Your Study Materials Aloud

While it might seem silly to read to yourself out loud, it could help you memorize the material faster and more effectively. By reading aloud, you activate both your visual and auditory memory, which enhances your ability to remember what you are reading.

Connect New Information to Prior Knowledge

Thinking about how the new information you are reviewing relates to prior knowledge is a tried and true study hack. Establishing a connection between what you already know and what you are now learning can help you develop deeper insight about the material and more easily remember the new information. If, for example, you are learning about World War II, try associating what you learn with prior knowledge you have of the historical period in which the war took place. Attaching new information to what you already know makes it more accessible and therefore easier to remember.

Avoid Multitasking During Study Sessions

Learning a new skill or memorizing specific information is not a task that lends itself to multitasking. Committing new things to memory and ensuring that they stick requires more brainpower than typical everyday tasks, which is why it is so important to stay focused and devote your full attention to studying. Limit distractions by turning off your phone and resisting the urge to check your social media accounts. Though you may not realize it, responding to a text message or doing anything other than studying can seriously undermine your efficiency. Each time you switch from one activity to another, your brain needs to shift gears, and it takes time to get back in the groove after even a momentary distraction.

Engage in Active Reading

Many times, especially if you are not particularly enthralled with the topic you are studying, you might engage in passive reading without even realizing it. Passive reading is when you read the material but are not mentally processing it as you do so. The result of passive reading is usually having to reread the same thing multiple times, which is clearly not an efficient use of time or energy. On the contrary, if you engage with the text actively by visualizing it in your head as you read and asking yourself questions about the material, you maximize your time and energy while improving your odds of remembering the information for the test. Ask yourself to identify the main idea of each paragraph you read and other relevant questions that can help you deepen your understanding of the text.

Practice Makes Perfect

One of the best ways to study for a test is to take practice tests that simulate the types of questions you will be expected to answer on the real thing. If you can’t find any practice tests that serve your needs, consider making your own. Take the questions you asked yourself while you were actively engaging with the text and turn them into a homemade practice test that can help you reinforce the material. You can also make flashcards and use them to practice the material on your own or with a friend. Practicing with flashcards can help you identify your areas of weakness, which gives you an opportunity to address them and turn them into strengths.

Teach the Material to Somebody Else

Reading study materials on your own is one thing, but teaching it to somebody else takes your learning to another level. Teaching new information to somebody other than yourself requires you to put it into your own words, which helps you better understand it and improves your ability to memorize it. The process of translating that information to another person helps reinforce it for you.

Change Your Scenery

Research shows that where you study can impact how well you memorize the material. Even a simple change of scenery like moving from one room to another can increase your concentration and retention. For best results, try studying in a location that is similar to where you will take the test so that it will be easier to retrieve the information that you’ve memorized.

About the Author

Kristina Barroso earned a B.A. in Psychology from Florida International University and works full-time as a classroom teacher in a public school. She teaches middle school English to a wide range of students from struggling readers to advanced and gifted populations. In her spare time, she loves writing articles about education for TheClassroom.com, WorkingMother and other education sites.