Do You Want Better Grades and Higher Test Scores? Study Smarter, Not Harder

Photo Credit: Pexels/Olga Danilyeva

With end-of-year exams looming and national testing (NAPLAN) just around the corner, it is important for children to be preparing now.

So often I see students trying to study for their exams but really don’t know how to. Some think that long hours of study is the best path to being a model, straight-A student. Yet, research shows that highly successful students actually spend less time studying than their peers do—they just study more effectively.

Below are 10 tips to help make your study time more effective.




Give yourself enough time to study.

It’s extremely important to book in your study time and spaced practice. There are lots of weekly study timetables to choose from but essentially all you need to do is block out the times you are at school, sleeping, playing sport and any other commitment you must do at a certain time, then schedule study slots in around them.

Planning smaller, more frequent sessions, over several weeks, is more effective, than cramming for your exam the days before. 

Local Resources

Organize your study space

Create a space for yourself that is comfortable and has everything you need to help you focus. Think about temperature, lighting, a comfortable chair etc and know that science has proven your brain actually retains more information if your back is straight and upright.

Do not multi-task

Highly successful students have generally learned to avoid multitasking. Instead of spending a lot of time doing low-intensity work with numerous distractions, these students work for shorter periods at higher intensity, without any distractions from email, social media, etc. Their studying is more effective and leads to greater achievement gains.

In short, turn your phone off and put it in another room. Consider the formula “work accomplished = intensity of focus X time spent.”

A student who is studying but also checks texts and scrolls through Instagram has a low intensity of focus—say a 3. Though he spends 3 hours “studying,” his work accomplished is only a 9.

On the other hand, a student who takes steps to completely commit has a high-intensity of focus—a 10. Though he spends only an hour studying, he accomplishes more than the distracted classmate did in 3 hours

Use flow charts and diagrams

Visual representations can be extremely effective when it comes to memory retention and recall. Shapes and colours are far easier to remember than words alone.

By collating and organising information in visual ways, you not only are making deeper connections in your understanding, but you are more likely to be able to ‘see’ the information when you need to retrieve it.

Practice old exams

The more familiar the style of questions, the easier it will be to process and understand the content. It is a huge advantage, when possible, to have practice exams or past papers of the exam you will be sitting. It is important to have a plan of attack.

Before you start each practice exam, skim through the entire paper, choose which questions you will do in what order, allocate mins to each section/ question to pace yourself, consider where you will need to show planning or working out etc. While you may not know in advance what the questions will be, you can be much more ready for anything if you know how you will tackle it.

Set Quizzes for yourself

Setting yourself mini tests or quizzes is the best way to activate the memory and recall information. It requires the brain to do the work and search for the missing pieces, which subsequently strengthens the connection. This is a far superior strategy, than simply rereading a textbook or summarizing notes.

Explain your answers to others

By articulating what you know to someone else, it clarifies your thinking and makes still further connections in your understanding of the topic.

Organize study groups with friends

Being accountable in your study habits will ensure you stay on track, but it will help you have a more positive mindset and make learning a more enjoyable and social endeavour.

Take regular breaks

Planning brain breaks is critically important in your study routine. Taking a 5 minute break every 30 minutes allows your brain to process the information you are learning.

Studying for hours straight does not allow for processing time and you will find much of the information simply does not ‘stick’. Get up and more around, have a drink of water, go outside; having a physical break from your study space, helps to shift the head space too.

Rest well

A good night’s sleep is a priority, especially the night before your exam. If you’ve done the work and committed to studying in the most effective ways in the lead up to the day, you will be ready!