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How To Study Effectively? 10 Best Study Techniques | USAHS

  • Thread starter Thread starter Sara Mozafaripour
  • Start date Start date

Sara Mozafaripour

Health Sciences Graduate Student

Is your current study method reading a textbook repeatedly, hoping something will stick? If so, do you find yourself stressed out because you can’t memorize such a vast quantity of information in such a short time?

As a grad student, it’s imperative to develop effective time management and study techniques to help you retain the most information. In grad school, cramming the night before doesn’t cut it anymore. Learn a new strategy and try some of these tips for how to study effectively.

Set the Stage​

student with an organized study area

Before you experiment with any of the different studying methods we discuss, create the conditions in your body and external environment to learn and retain information. Here are some pre-studying techniques worth trying:

  • Get a good night’s sleep: A 2019 study found a positive relationship between students’ grades and how much sleep they’re getting.1 However, this doesn’t only mean getting eight hours of sleep before a big test. What matters even more is getting enough sleep for several nights before you do most of your studying.
  • Switch up your study environment: This might not seem like a promising strategy for how to study effectively, but studies show that switching up your environment can increase recall performance.2 Instead of studying at home every day, try checking out a new coffee spot each week or heading to your local library. A change in scenery can be one of the best study methods to improve your memory and concentration levels.
  • Stick with an environment that works: If you have a good study space at home or a café that is reliably productive, it makes sense to stick with this when you are under pressure.
  • Listen to calming music: You can listen to any music you like, but many agree that tuning into classical, instrumental and lo-fi beats is one of the best ways to study and can help you pay attention to the task. Songs with lyrics can be distracting.
  • Eliminate distractions: Silence your phone and annoying background noises such as the TV or radio. Make a pact to avoid checking social media until the end of your study session.
  • Snack on smart food: Coffee and candy will give you a temporary boost, but then you’ll have a blood sugar crash. For energy that is more focused and sustainable, try healthy snacks such as edamame, apples or nuts.3

10 Study Methods & Tips That Actually Work​

1. The SQ3R Studying Technique​

SQ3R method

The SQ3R method can be one of the best studying techniques to help students identify key facts and retain information within their textbook. SQ3R (or SQRRR) is an acronym that stands for the five steps of the reading comprehension process.4 Try this process for a more efficient and effective study session:

  • Survey: Instead of reading the entire book, start by skimming the first chapter and taking notes on headings, subheadings, images or other standout features like charts.
  • Question: Formulate questions around the chapter’s content, such as: What is this chapter about? What do I already know about this subject?
  • Read: Begin reading the chapter and look for answers to the questions you formulated.
  • Recite: After reading a section, summarize in your own words what you just read. Try recalling and identifying major points and answering questions from the second step.
  • Review: Once you have finished the chapter, review the material to fully understand it. Quiz yourself on the questions you created and re-read any portions you need to.

You can try these study techniques for college before taking your final exam.

2. Retrieval Practice​

retrieval practice

Retrieval practice is a studying technique based on remembering at a later time.5 Recalling an answer to a question improves learning more than looking for the answer in your textbook. Remembering and writing down the answer to a flashcard is more effective than thinking you know the answer and flipping the card over early.

If you practice retrieval, you are more likely to remember the information later. Below are some ways for how to study effectively by integrating the retrieval process into your routine.

  • Utilize practice tests: Use practice tests or questions to quiz yourself without looking at your book or notes.
  • Craft unique questions: Be your teacher and create questions you think would be on a test. If you’re in a study group, encourage others to do the same and trade questions.
  • Use flashcards: Create flashcards, but practice your retrieval technique. Instead of flipping a card over prematurely, write the answer down and check.

3. Spaced Practice​

spaced practice

Spaced practice, or distributed practice is one of the best ways to study complex material.6 It encourages students to study over an extended period instead of cramming the night before. When our brains almost forget something, they work harder to recall that information. Spacing out your studying allows your mind to make connections between ideas and build upon the knowledge that can be easily recalled later.

To try this study technique, review your material in spaced intervals similar to the schedule below:

  • Day 1: Learn the material in class.
  • Day 2: Revisit and review.
  • Day 3: Revisit and review.
  • After one week: Revisit and review.
  • After two weeks: Revisit and review.

When figuring out how to study effectively, It’s important to start planning early. At the beginning of each semester, schedule time each day to study and review the material. Even if your exams are months away, this will help you hold yourself accountable.

4. The PQ4R Method​

PQ4R method

Similar to the SQ3R method, PQ4R is an acronym that stands for the six steps in the process.7 It’s one of the best study methods because it takes an active approach to learning. By implementing it, you can improve memorization and understanding of a topic.

  • Preview: Preview the information before you start reading to get an idea of the subject. Skim the material and read only the headers, subheadings, and highlighted text.
  • Question: Ask yourself questions related to the topic, such as: What do I expect to learn? What do I already know about this topic?
  • Read: Read the information one section at a time and try to identify answers to your questions.
  • Reflect: Did you answer all of your questions? If not, go back and see if you can find the answer.
  • Recite: In your own words, speak or write down a summary of the information you just read.
  • Review: Look over the material again and answer any remaining questions.

5. The Feynman Technique​

The Feynman Technique

The Feynman Technique is one of the more effective study techniques of learning a concept quickly by explaining it in plain and simple terms.8 It’s based on the idea, “If you want to understand something well, try to explain it simply.” What that means is, by attempting to explain a concept in our own words, we are likely to understand it a lot faster.

How it works:

  • Set the Stage: Write the subject or concept you are studying at the top of a sheet of paper and jot down everything you know about it
  • ELI5: Then, explain it in your own words as if you were teaching someone without a basic understanding of it.
  • Assess & Study: Review what you wrote and identify areas where you were wrong. Then, go back to your notes or reading material and figure out the correct answer.
  • Organize, Convey & Review: Lastly, if there are any areas in your writing where you used technical terms or complex language, go back and rewrite these sections in simpler terms for someone who doesn’t have the educational background you have. Review your new understanding of the subject.

6. Leitner System​

Leitner System

The Leitner System is one of the best study techniques based on flashcards.9 Ideally, keep your cards in several boxes to track when to study each set. Every card starts in Box 1. If you get a card right, move it to the next box. If you get a card wrong, move it down a box or keep it in Box 1 (if it’s already there).

Each box determines how much you will study each set of cards, similar to the following schedule:

  • Every day: Box 1
  • Every two days: Box 2
  • Every four days: Box 3
  • Every nine days: Box 4
  • Every 14 days: Box 5

7. Color-Coded Notes​

Color-Coded Notes

Messy notes can make it hard to recall the critical points of a lecture. Writing in color is one of the best study methods because it’s a dynamic way to organize new information. It also helps you review and prioritize the most important ideas.

A 2019 study found that color can improve a person’s memory performance.10 That same study found that warm colors (red and yellow) “can create a learning environment that is positive and motivating that can help learners not only to have a positive perception toward the content but also to engage and interact more with the learning materials.” It also reported that warmer colors “increase attention and elicit excitement and information.”

Writing in color may seem like a no-brainer, but keep these tips for how to study effectively in mind:

  • Write down key points in red.
  • Highlight important information in yellow.
  • Organize topics by color.
  • Don’t color everything—just the key information.

8. Mind Mapping​

Mind Mapping

If you’re a visual learner, try mind mapping. It’s one of the most effective study techniques because it allows you to visually organize information in a diagram.11 First, you write a word in the center of a blank page. From there, you write main ideas and keywords and connect them directly to the central concept. Other related ideas will continue to branch out.

The structure of a mind map is related to how our brains store and retrieve information. Mind mapping your notes instead of just writing them down can improve your reading comprehension.11 It’s one of the best studying techniques for enabling you to see the big picture by communicating the hierarchy and relationships between concepts and ideas.

So, how do you do it?

  • Grab a blank sheet of paper or use an online tool and write your study topic in the center, such as “child development.”12
  • Connect one of your main ideas (i.e., a chapter of your book or notes) to the main topic, such as “developmental stages.”
  • Connect sub-branches of supporting ideas to your main branch. This is the association of ideas. For example, “Sensorimotor,” “Preoperational,” “Concrete operational,” and “Formal operational.”
  • TIP: Use different colors for each branch and draw pictures if it helps.

9. Exercise Before Studying​

Exercise Before Studying

Exercise fights fatigue and can increase energy levels.13 If you’re struggling with how to study effectively, consider adding an exercise routine to your day. It doesn’t have to be a full hour at the gym. It can be a 20-minute workout at home or a brisk walk around your neighborhood. Anything to get your heart rate pumping. Exercising before you study:

  • Kickstarts brain function and can help improve memory and cognitive performance.14
  • Releases endorphins, which can improve your mood and reduce stress levels.15

10. Study Before Bed​

Study Before Bed

Sleep is crucial for brain function, memory formation, and learning. Studying before you sleep, whether it is reviewing flashcards or notes, can help improve recall.16 According to Scott Cairney, a researcher from the University of York in the United Kingdom:

“When you are awake, you learn new things, but when you are asleep, you refine them, making it easier to retrieve them and apply them correctly when you need them most. This is important for how we learn but also for how we might help retain healthy brain functions.”

When you’re asleep, the brain organizes your memories. Instead of pulling an all-nighter, study a few hours before bed and review the information in the morning.

No one wants to spend more time studying than they need to. Learning effective study techniques for graduate school can ensure you are fully prepared for your exams and will help curve any looming test anxiety. Hopefully, with the techniques above, you can avoid cramming the night before and make your study time more effective. For more tips on the best ways to study, download the infographic below.

download infographic


  1. David L. Chandler, “Better sleep habits lead to better college grades,” Science Daily, October 2019, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/10/191001083956.htm
  2. “How Our Environment Affects What We Remember,” Neuroscience News, March 10, 2022, https://neurosciencenews.com/environment-memory-20165/
  3. Keith Rowe, “Top 10 Healthy Snacks for Studying,” brainMD, April 2018, https://brainmd.com/blog/top-10-healthy-snacks-for-studying
  4. “SQ3R: Survey-Question-Read-Recite-Review,” AdLit, https://www.adlit.org/in-the-classroom/strategies/sq3r-survey-question-read-recite-review
  5. Retrieval Practice, “What is retrieval practice?”, Retrieval Practice, https://www.retrievalpractice.org/why-it-works
  6. Xuechen Yuan, “Evidence of the Spacing Effect and Influences on Perceptions of Learning and Science Curricula,” Cureus, 2022;14(1):e21201, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8759977/
  7. Paul Holt, “Enhancing Your Study Habits with PQ4R,” e-student.org, Sep 22, 2023, https://e-student.org/pq4r-study-method/
  8. Sahil Bloom, “The Feynman Technique,” Sahil Bloom.com, https://www.sahilbloom.com/newsletter/the-feynman-technique
  9. Jesse Whelan, “Using the Leitner System to improve your study,” Medium, May 2019, https://jessewhelan.medium.com/using-the-leitner-system-to-improve-your-study-d5edafae7f0
  10. Meei Tyng Chai, Hafeez Ullah Amin, Lila Iznita Izhar, et al. “Exploring EEG Effective Connectivity Network in Estimating Influence of Color on Emotion and Memory,” Front Neuroinform, October 2019; 13:66, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6794354
  11. Ting Liu and Takaya Yuizono, “Mind Mapping Training’s Effects on Reading Ability: Detection Based on Eye Tracking Sensors,” Sensors (Basel), August 2020; (16):4222, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7472315
  12. Mindmeister, “Collaborative Mind Mapping,” Mindmeister, https://www.mindmeister.com.
  13. Ross Brakeville, “Health Benefits of Exercise,” WebMD, September 2023, https://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20061103/exercise-fights-fatigue-boosts-energy
  14. “How Exercise Can Help Boost Your Memory,” Cleveland Clinic, February 19, 2024, https://health.clevelandclinic.org/exercise-to-boost-memory
  15. MedlinePlus, “Benefits of Exercise,” MedlinePlus, August 2017, https://medlineplus.gov/benefitsofexercise.html
  16. Ana Sandoiu, “Can you learn in your sleep? Yes, and here’s how,” MedicalNewsToday, March 2018, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321161
Is your current study method reading a textbook repeatedly, hoping something will stick? If so, do you find yourself stressed out because you can’t memorize such a vast quantity of information in such a short time? As a grad student, it’s imperative to develop effective time management and study techniques to help you retain the

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