Everyone learns best in their own unique ways. Some thrive with lots of visuals, while others perform best in total silence.
The rare few might even pick things up faster, especially those who have photographic memory.
For successful examples, look at all the spelling bee winners, 12-year-olds entering college or Edward Tian.
While the rest of us rely on ChatGPT to help us write an essay, at 22, the Princeton University student created a new tool to combat plagiarism through artificial intelligence (AI) writing tools.
GPTZero, written by Tian over three days in a cafe over the New Year holiday, has been accessed by 80,000 people since it launched on Jan. 3, 2023, Tian told South China Morning Post in an interview from Toronto.
Regardless of speed, the feeling of accomplishment is one that anyone can relate to.
Perhaps that’s why you comb Internet for effective study habits to look for the best tips to help you out.
They do exist if you know where to look.
Before that, let’s look at science to discover how we really learn something new.
Understanding effective study habits: How do we learn?
There are about 86 billion neurons in the brain. The connecting points between neurons are called synapses.
Signals frequently pass from one neuron to the next, along the axon, into tiny sacs that release neurotransmitters (chemicals that allow brain cells to talk to one another).
Axon is where the information travels to another cell or organ in our body.
When we learn, something phenomenal happens in our brains — we start to create new connections between our neurons. This process is known as neuroplasticity.
The more time you spend learning that specific skill or recalling that information, the stronger the connection becomes, and the more you can boost your brain power.
Effective study habits: 4 science-backed tips that guarantee results with less effort
1. Spaced repetition
Spaced repetition, also known as the spacing effect, is a common studying strategy many use for long-term learning.
This technique was discovered over 100 years ago by a German psychologist named Hermann Ebbinghaus.
It involves breaking up information into small chunks and reviewing them consistently over time.
At the neuroscience level, our brains are always active, processing incoming information for long-term storage and recovering memories when needed.
Spacing out and sorting this information enhances the brain’s efficiency in both storage and retrieval processes.
Plus, research has shown that spaced repetition improves long-term retention compared to cramming.
To begin spaced repetition, you should start early.
Planning ahead of time for your studying is the first step in executing spaced repetition and ensuring that it results in optimal studying and learning.
For example, don’t memorise the periodic table in one go. Instead, learn a few rows daily and review each lesson before starting anything new.
2. Active recall
Active recall is a way to get information out of your memory by testing yourself at each step of the revision process.
This method forces your brain to collect information from memory, strengthening your long-term retention. Studies have shown that active recall improves learning efficiency, allowing you to achieve better results in less time.
Research from 2013, which analysed hundreds of separate studies about effective revision techniques, concluded that testing, or active recall, is a technique that has “high utility” and can be implemented effectively with minimal training.
So, how can we apply active recall in our own studies?
If you’re someone who makes notes, one strategy you can use is making notes with your book closed.
Take notes without looking at the book first, summarising key points in your own words. Then, check the book for any missed details and add them.
Another method you can try is to write down your own questions — similar to Cornell note-taking — as you go through the content you’re learning.
Creating a question list actively engages your cognitive processes, strengthening memory connections and enhancing recall during exams, as opposed to passive reading or highlighting.
3. Interleaved practice
Interleaved practice involves mixing different topics or subjects within a study session instead of focusing on a single topic for an extended period.
It improves learning and retention because it challenges your brain to constantly switch between different types of information. This process enhances your ability to differentiate between concepts, making it easier to remember and apply them in the long term.
Research suggests that interleaved practice is more beneficial than blocking.
The University of Arizona Academic Affairs reports that cognitive psychologists believe interleaving improves the brain’s ability to differentiate between concepts and strengthens memory associations.
During a study session, you can allocate time to math, chemistry, and biology, then revisit these topics, possibly in a different order and with varied study methods.
Such an approach encourages you to get back the information and make new connections between the subjects. For instance, how is this topic in biology related to what was just studied in chemistry?
However, remember to spend enough time on each subject before to ensure a deeper understanding is achieved each time the topic is studied.
4. Sleep and rest
Staying up all night to remember equations is tempting but ineffective. All-nighters can lead to forgetfulness and increased stress sensitivity, not better grades.
Therefore, prior to an exam, aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night. During sleep, your brain strengthens and organizes information you’ve learned during the day.
This process, known as memory consolidation, helps solidify your understanding of the material, making it easier to recall later.
Plus, research has shown that a good night of sleep improves declarative memory, also known as the ability to remember facts on that big exam.
Lucid dreaming techniques: Are they considered effective study habits?
Lucid dreaming is a state of awareness in which a dreamer becomes conscious of the fact that they are dreaming and may have some control over the dream’s content.
But are they considered effective study habits?
According to Harvard Business Review, the answer is yes.
When people imagine practising a skill or sport during “lucid dreaming,” the state in which a sleeping person recognises he’s in a dream and takes control of it, their performance in that activity improves in real life.
It’s something Daniel Erlacher, a lecturer in exercise science at the University of Bern, in Switzerland, can attest to.
“In one experiment, we asked participants to dream about doing deep knee bends,” he says.
“Even though their bodies weren’t moving, their heart and respiration rates increased slightly as if they were exercising. So your brain responds to the dream movements in similar ways, allowing you to use dreams as a simulation.”
Lucid dreaming can also help you study better.
Take the medical field, for example. Or any other subject that’s jam-packed with things to remember.
That’s where lucid dreaming comes in. It gives you the ability to visualise study materials while dreaming.
While lucid dreaming can be used as a study aid, it is not necessarily more effective than other study techniques.
What are the dangers of lucid dreaming?
Over the past decade, interest in lucid dreaming has risen, with a significantly large spike in internet searches during COVID-19.
“In popular media, everyone talks about how lucid dreaming will change your life, and [how] it’s so great…[But] almost no one talks about any dangers or caution,” Nirit Soffer-Dudek, a clinical psychology researcher at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel told BBC.
“I think that more carefulness is needed, in terms of thinking about who this is good for and who it isn’t.”
Denholm Aspy, a visiting research fellow in psychology at the University of Adelaide in Australia, shares that lucid dreaming can worsen the state of those with mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia, psychosis, or bipolar disorder.
Soffer-Dudek — who has a background in sleep research — also suggests that regularly induced lucid dreaming might represent a more aroused state of sleep, which can lead to sleep disturbance.
She was also concerned that the techniques used to induce lucid dreams could impact sleep quality, leading to an increase in mental disorders.