Why you’re sabotaging yourself by studying harder and longer

how to study faster
Sing your class materials out loud. Source: AFP

There are thousands of guides and articles online on how to study faster and better – we even had one back when online learning was the only option during COVID-19.

They mostly repeat the same conventional tips: start from day one of school, study a bit every day, get enough sleep, read notes aloud as you take them, draw mindmaps or scribbles, and have good time management.

All of this takes time and effort — and lots of it. 

We get it; as a student, there’s bound to be cramming sessions whenever exam season creeps up. With so many materials to get through, it’s hard to avoid studying for long periods of time. 

The problem is many of us find it hard to start consistently from day one. And as the date gets closer and closer, we’re resorting to Googling tips and tricks for how to study faster as we spend entire nights in the library.

This is a recipe for disaster. Whether you start from day one or the day before your exams, studying harder and longer is doing you more harm than good.

how to study faster

A student studying for her upcoming exams. Source: AFP

Why studying harder and longer is so bad for you

Too much of anything is never good — and that includes overstudying, a condition that has been deemed important enough to be reported in newspapers from as early as April 7, 1903.

The overstudying was so bad that they studied every afternoon and evening, continuing into the early hours and losing sleep in the process. Some felt pushed to “hire experts” to help them complete the work.
The toll of the “herculean tasks” is “sufficient to break down the physical and mental calibre of all but the very strongest.”

Today, with reports of students resorting to drugs and ghostwriters, it can seem like nothing has changed.

We do, however, have better research. A 2006 experiment got students to read educational passages of about 260 words in one of three ways.

The first read and reread the text for four consecutive periods of five minutes each.

The second read and studied for three periods. In the fourth period, which lasted 10 minutes, they wrote as many ideas as they could remember.

The third group read the text for five minutes and tried to remember it in the other three five-minute periods.

Guess which group remembered the most? It was the third group that remembered it best. This is the group that studied for a total of 20 minutes and did not have to read it for all of that time.

The worst performers were those who studied the most.

how to study faster

Check with your doctor before taking any sleeping aids and especially sleeping pills. Source: AFP

How to study faster and better: 3 creative ways for better learning

There are many ways to learn better and the best ways to do this will differ from you to me and your aunty.

While no method 100% works the same for everyone, there are definitely a few quirky, unusual tips that are guaranteed to at least keep your brain ticking.

Check out our top three choices for students:

Chewing gum

You may have heard of this trick, which shows how popular it is. 

Studies have been conducted at length to determine how and why chewing gum seems to help with studying faster and better.

Does a certain flavour make students process information better? Would they have to be chewing a certain type of gum?

How long do they need to chew because it’s deemed effective? Would mints or other types of candy work?

The real reason is that chewing gum while studying helps to increase heart rate and cerebral blood flow.

This helps to pump more blood into the brain, and helps students stay awake and alert. This study from 2015 showed that between two groups, the one that chewed gum showed higher alertness and had higher productivity.

So if you chewed gum while studying, and then chewed gum before or during the exam – depending on whether the exam hall in particular allows for it – it will help recall information and think better.

Chewing gum may also help with studying or preparing for an exam.

Many students find it hard to focus or process information, and are easily distracted by voices around them – they might even be tempted to scroll through their phone or catch a quick nap (that may or may not turn into a full eight hours of sleep).

But by chewing gum, students can focus better, study faster and have a higher productivity rate — or at the very least stay alert.

how to study faster

Chewing gum has been proven to enhance various cognitive processes. Source: AFP

Sing what you need to study

There are various types of mnemonics, but the most common ones for students are music and acronyms.

The easiest example of a musical mnemonic is the ABC song, where the alphabet is set to music for children to memorise. But don’t assume that only kids can do that!

With this method, you can learn countries, science cycles, math equations, or even chemistry combinations. Shoutout to AsapSCIENCE for their song for the periodic table. 

Another method on how to study faster would be using acronyms and acrostics. Both involve using a letter to represent a word or phrase that needs to be remembered.

For example “FLAV” to a medical student can be used to remember the four different types of dementia – frontotemporal, Lewy body, Alzheimer’s, and vascular. 

These acronyms don’t have to mean anything in particular – if the letters ‘ACE AMP SS’ help you remember the eight types of digital marketing (affiliate, content, email, analytics, mobile, pay-per-click, search engine optimisation, social media), then that’s good enough!

For an acrostic, it’s the same concept as using an acronym. They are used by forming specific sentences and using the first letter of each word to remember information.

A classic example would be “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally” used to represent the order of operations in algebra – parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction.

Again, they can be as silly as possible, as long as they help you remember.

how to study faster

Font matters. Source: AFP

Study and write in Comic Sans

This may fill you with some inexplicable rage if you’re a writer or a graphic designer, but hear us out.

Comic Sans is famously known as the worst font — it’s the butt of office jokes, the bane of any graphic designer, and entire websites and organisations are devoted to banning the use of this font entirely. It’s gotten to the point where news outlets have covered how much people love to hate it.

Why? Comic Sans can be hard to read – ironically, it’s intended for children – because it’s a sans serif font, and not suited for blocks of text.

It appears messy and dishevelled, and there’s little uniformity in the design.

Despite how much people hate this font, it actually turns out that you will write better and faster with it.

This study describes a psychological experiment with two classes who were taught the same things, but one in “standard” fonts like Helvetica, while the others read in Comic Sans.

Several weeks later after a test, the students who studied in Comic Sans performed significantly better, leading to the conclusion that ugly fonts improved their recall.

The real reason why Comic Sans works for studying – as ugly as it is – is that because they’re less legible, they actually make your brain work a little harder.

Just reading Comic Sans wakes us up because we need to use additional mental resources to overcome that spike in difficulty. 

So the next time you have trouble absorbing information, try copy-pasting it into a document and changing the font to Comic Sans. It may hurt for a bit, but if it helps to study faster, we’re all for it.

how to study faster

A student revising for her exams in a quiet library. Source: AFP

Does when and how you study make a difference?

Many people think that studying at a specific time or even listening to a specific soundtrack helps them to study better and faster. Let’s address them:

Time

Many people talk about what’s the best time for studying – some say it’s in the morning, bright and early, when your brain is booting up for the day, while others say it’s in the evening when the sun goes down.

The time of day can affect your brain in a few ways, which is why scientists have agreed that the best times to study are between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. or 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Students are more focused in the morning, which makes it the best time to study, especially in natural light.

In the afternoon, they may feel a drop in energy and have other distractions, so studying then may be more difficult – most students opt to study in the evening when they feel calmer and can tackle their revision better.

On the contrary, the worst time to study is between 4 a.m. to 7 a.m., so maybe don’t pull too many all-nighters when cramming for finals.

When you’re tired, it’s hard to retain information, and you may forget things the moment you sit down for your exam paper.

Of course, if you have your personal preferences and choose to stick to them, that’s fine! Remember that what works best for others may not work best for you, but you should always take care of your health. 

how to study faster

Do students work better with or without listening to music? Source: AFP

Music

Listening to music while studying has always been a popular debate topic; some people think it’s too distracting, and some people can’t study without it.

For those who prefer studying in silence, the quiet helps them to retain information. Not listening to music or other voices around them helps to minimise distractions, and allow for better concentration.

Some even go so far as to seek out empty spaces or soundproof rooms to study and absorb information, not wanting to be distracted by the tiniest whisper or the faint drone of a car passing back. 

On the flip side, research has shown that listening to music while studying can help students feel focused.

It helps with concentration and improves cognitive function and relaxation while staying motivated to study. Most of all, it keeps the process more enjoyable! 

If you end up accidentally memorising the lyrics to Hamilton or Megan Thee Stallion’s latest hit instead of what will be on your exam, then maybe consider switching to piano or lo-fi music.

Some people prefer listening to music without lyrics, and this paved the way for thousands of YouTube and Spotify playlists titled “study music,” “lo-fi music for studying,” “calming music for studying,” and more.

In actuality, it’s just like picking a time of day to study – some people prefer radio silence, studying with earplugs in or wearing noise-cancelling headphones to focus solely on their work.

Some people prefer studying with music, ranging from classical piano music, to the Stardew Valley soundtrack, or the entire discography of High School Musical – yes, all three of the movies. 

Take some time, explore different methods, and see which way of studying works best for you. Good luck with those upcoming exams!