How Top Students Study
Ever wondered how those Harvard, MIT, and Stanford students study? How did they become the best of the best and what habits did they pick up on the way? Being a top student not only means good grades but also having a balanced life, it means studying smart – not hard.
So, what’s the secret?
We’ve gathered the best study secrets and summarized them into 6 tips:
1. Take better notes
Believe it or not, notes are a big part of your success in school. They summarize course material covered in lectures, they’re study guides and an assignment helper, and even the act of writing helps you retain information. But if you’re not writing notes in a way that helps you, success won’t be so easy.
Top students find their most effective note-taking methods by understanding what works for them and their learning style: Do you work better by outlining class topics? Bullet points? Summarizing the end of each unit?
To take your note-taking to the next level, check out the Cornell Note-taking Method, a way to structure your notes like flashcards by separating stimulus from response. This enables you to write your notes in a way where you can test your retention and understanding. Many people write notes that do a great job in summarizing their materials but their notes are not designed to promote learning, retention, or to diagnose their weaknesses.
Takeaway: Take better notes by getting to know your learning style
2. Make better use of lectures
If you’re dedicating a few hours of your week to sitting in a lecture hall, at least make sure it’s worth it. The usefulness of lectures depend on many things, such as how well you know the material, the professor’s teaching style, and your learning style. You can follow the professor and get a lot out of lectures or simply get lost and fall behind class. Top students make sure they know what to expect and are always prepared.
If you feel that you’re not 100% confident about the material, you should consider doing extra work outside lectures such as doing readings beforehand, going over lecture notes afterwards, etc. Plus, office hours and study groups are a great place to ask to have something explain again.
If you feel like you can follow along with the lecture, readings might not be the best way to go but actually applying what you learnt to ensure mastery. The key to fully understanding the material usually comes with applying your knowledge.
On the other hand, if the professor is going kind of slow and you usually get a good idea during the lecture, you might get away with just skimming your lecture notes and saving time for other classes.
Takeaway: Get to know your understanding of the material to get the most out of lectures.
3. Attend classes
Many professors will only say certain things or go over certain material in class. If you don’t attend class, you simply won’t get that material and you also won’t be able to ask follow-up questions. Speaking to the professor after class is a great way to resolve any questions or contradictions that may have come up during the lecture. Another benefit of lectures is that they serve to structure your day. Did you know that having lots of free time is known to create diminishing returns?
Takeaway: Don’t miss out on material and structure your day by attending class.
4. Do practice exams
Practice questions, mock exams, problem sets – anything that requires you to apply what you’ve learned – are usually the best place to find out how well you actually understand the material. Avoid the temptation to do them with friends and start them alone first instead.
If someone else gives you the answer to the problem before you even gave it a try, they’ve just prevented you from finding a hole in your understanding you didn’t even know was there. Once you’ve given all the problems a good, honest, try, go and find help. Ask friends, classmates, TAs, and professors – they’ll help you get unstuck on those tough problems.
When studying for exams, always do practice exams alone – no notes or helpers. This will give you a great idea of how well you know the material. Once you’re finished, review the test and see what you didn’t know – these are the things that are most important to study.
Takeaway: Do practice exams alone first, then find help to get unstuck on tough questions.
5. Help others study
Being able to teach and explain a concept is a great way to test your knowledge on class material. If you find that you’re having trouble explaining something, it’s a sign that you may need to study more on that subject. Study with friends or create a study group before exams to fill these ‘gaps’ of knowledge.
If you don’t know anyone who needs help with the class, find someone who already knows the material and “teach” it to them. They’ll be able to tell you the things you didn’t talk about, things you got wrong, or even ask questions you don’t know the answers to (and then answer them for you).
Takeaway: Help others study to discover gaps of knowledge.
6. Be resourceful
There are an endless amount of resources available to students today – not just textbooks and professors. Find helpful tutorials on YouTube, join online forums to discuss concepts, find old exams in your school library and online, and choose the best professors by viewing their ratings. One of our favorite hacks – learn how to use advanced Google searches. This is an essential skill that enables you to answer your own questions. Here’s a great infographic that summarizes some of the most useful ways to use Google advanced search.
Takeaway: Discover and use all the resources available to you.