This comes a bit late for some students’ mid-semester exams, but Sue Shellenbarger’s Wall Street Journal article offers a number of tips on the best way to study. I’ve summarized eight of them and then added two of my own (# 9 & 10).

1. Testing yourself repeatedly before an exam teaches the brain to retrieve and apply knowledge from memory. The method is more effective than re-reading a textbook.

2. Review the toughest material right before going to bed the night before the test. That approach makes it easier to recall the material later.

3. Don’t wake up earlier than usual to study; this could interfere with the rapid-eye-movement sleep that aids memory. (All-nighters impair memory and reasoning for up to 4 days).

4. Eat breakfast the day of a big test. High-carb, high-fiber, slow-digesting foods like oatmeal are best.

5. What you eat a week in advance matters, too. Students who ate a regular balanced diet that included fruit and veg did better than those who ate a high-fat, low-carb diet that was heavy on meat, eggs, cheese, and cream. The brain requires a constant supply of energy and “has only a limited backup battery.”

6. While many teens insist they study better while listening to music or texting their friends, research shows the opposite: Information reviewed amid distractions is less likely to be recalled later.

7. Reducing “novelty and stress on the day of the exam” can prevent choking under pressure. If you are taking the exam in an unfamiliar place, visit the room in advance.

8. If you’re still feeling anxious about an exam, set aside 10 minutes beforehand to write down your worries. Expressing one’s worries in writing, unburdens the brain.

Here’s 9 & 10 from me.

9. Short and frequent is better than long and rare. It is better to study your four or five subjects every day for shorter times than to study one subject each day for the full day. By the time you go back to what you studied four or five days previously, most of what you learned will have gone.

10. Repeat, repeat, repeat. I know it’s really boring but it’s also really effective. When I ask struggling Hebrew students about their study habits, they will usually say, “Well, I study 2-3 hours every day. The first thing I tell them to do is to shorten their study time. Once they’ve started breathing again, I explain the strategy using the following diagram:

(I can’t remember where I picked this up, but it works for all subjects, and especially for language study).

8am: Study the subject first thing in the morning for 45-60 minutes maximum. As soon as you end that period, your mind immediately starts losing data at a frighteningly rapid rate. Imagine where this graph ends up by the end of the day (feel familiar?)

11am: Re-study the same material again, although this time it should only take you 20-30 minutes. Notice that the knowledge level is higher than the the first period (and reached faster), and that the data loss rate has a shallower gradient (it takes longer to forget what you’ve learned).

4pm: Re-study same material again, this time for 10-15 minutes. Knowledge peak is even higher and gradient of loss even shallower. (In between these study times, you can be studying other subjects using the same method.)

9pm: Just before bed, review the material one more time for about 5-10 mins. Note peak and gradient (appealing, isn’t it!).  Compare where you are now with where you would be if you only studied the subject for one long period. Where would that red line be? Preachers, imagine what this could do for your eye-contact!

And if you want to seal it for good, do a quick 5-minute review first thing the next morning before studying new material. That will really set the mental concrete.

  • Cris

    Just wanted to say about that final segment of item 10: “just before bed” … that hardly ever came at 9 PM in my college or seminary days!

    Joke aside that graphed approach for language study would probably do well. How can I get a do-over on those years of German, Greek and Hebrew?

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      It’s not so much about bedtime, Cris, but about ending study time. If I don’t stop at 9pm, I don’t sleep!

      • JV

        THANKS BUDDY .AM SURE IT WILL WORK

      • simontini

        thank you soo much for ur such wonderfull words which helped me to plan out my study time nw i think i can better concentrate on my study part i would like that u post sm more information related to study and time management and best way to achieve good marks

        • simontini

          i would be grateful if u reply to my message

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  • N V

    Thanks for these posts! I only recently discovered your page and have found it to be immensely helpful.

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      Thanks NV

      • sam sandhuu

        it help me, top in class
        THANK YOU

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  • Martin

    This looks good ,

    What ways is best for study , doing lots of practice exams or read books ,

  • Dimitar

    Hello,

    I read your tips and they sure sound great,
    but I still haven’t tried them yet.
    I wanted to ask you:
    If I record myself (on a mobile phone, mp3 etc…),
    reading a lesson (ex: the digestive system )
    and then listen to it for 1-2h without any distractions,
    will that help me remember it.

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      Better lots of shorter sessions than one long one.

      • becky

        tnxs david

  • Jamdade pruthviraj sanjay

    HEY,DAVID!
    Thank u ,for your suggession.I would surely apply this tips in my day to day studies
    THANK X A LOTTTTT!!!!!!!!

  • mohsin

    thankx budy
    i m sure it will work

  • http://- A.R

    Hello.
    Please give an example.

    Tnxs David

  • Rahul

    I want to ask you about, I am a student, I go to school 7 am – 2 pm and then I go to private classes 3 pm – 6 pm. so when I want to study?(Time)

  • rakesh

    i cannot uderstand the graph

  • nazz

    is it enough for a certain course like medic.what i mean is that the time period for studying per day is on 2 hours

    • nazz

      only*

      • Asharma

        that’s a lot

  • Srijani Bandyopadhyay

    sometimes our mind gets distracted for a long time even before a very important exam.what is the fastest and the most immediate way to bring our mind in the correct path?

  • chester

    Thank you David. I hope it really works!!!

  • hank kim

    Thanks so much n do hope this process will be of helpful to me n everyone who will put it into practice

  • ndobeng matthews

    thank u dv it realy work like never before

  • Asharma

    Thanks David really helped me. Not a very good studier,always been an A student,but now i understand it more and don’t forget what I studied the week before or day before

  • http://star izzy

    I heard that if u study at night, nothing goes to ur brain coz ur sleepy but if u study in the morning more knowledge goes 2 ur brain.

    not trying 2 say ur wrong david, just wot i heard

    • mark

      its correct izzy

  • Thembela Sefulo Kakoma

    Thank you so much…i have realised i study for too long that i end up getting no concept at all..Surely its not about how much time you spend at your desk,but what you get when you sit there

  • http://besteffectiveandcalmwaytostudy Dhananjay

    I hope your tips will work and yes it is also true that the thing which you have studied must be revised
    otherwise these things will become a strange person for you.

  • proft

    I study in nigeria and have 4hrs lecture a day with varying lecture time.how do I cope.with a situation like this and how do i apply.this method?

  • PHINDA

    PLEASE HELP ME, HOW CAN I MANAGE MY STUDY TIME?SOMETIMES I STUDY AND FORGET WITHIN FEW DAYS.

  • Naren

    This is really informative and awesome thanks a lot Mr. David!

  • Jenipher Joseph

    thank you dr murray for your help

  • hansa

    thank you the text really will help for my studies and it inspired me a lot

  • Sina

    Thank you a lot for these inspiring tips professor murray it helped me a lot.

  • seron

    Dude,this is an excellent post..let me try this method.,usually i get good marks,,,,but i study for 5 hours a day ..i feel like ur idea is great