4 Study Strategies Powered by Science

By Kylie Wolfe

A new school year means new classes, instructors, and opportunities. And because you’ll be learning new subjects, it’s important to find study strategies that help you absorb and process the new material. Here are four you can try, all backed by science.

Prioritize Sleep

It might be tempting to fight through your fatigue and pull an all-nighter to study for an upcoming exam, but sleep is critical to learning and memory. And limiting the quantity and quality of the sleep you get can impact your motivation and mood. By prioritizing it instead, you can make sure your countless hours of studying aren’t all for naught.

As you study, your brain accumulates what it learns in the hippocampus. These little bits of knowledge are later transferred to the cortex for long-term storage. As your brain consolidates what you’ve learned, it strengthens neural connections, forming memories. This gives your brain the ability to retain and recall information in the future.

But getting a sufficient amount of quality sleep is key, making it easier to concentrate on and engage with new material.

Listen to Music

If you’re having trouble focusing or being productive, listening to music while you work could help. This approach forms a positive connection in your brain between the two activities, engaging areas that control attention span and memory retention, both important for learning.

This strategy is only useful if you find the right kind of music to listen to. What you prefer at breakfast probably isn’t the same as what you prefer on a Friday night, and the same applies to studying. Find music that fits the occasion, something that makes you feel inspired and motivated to study. You want it to engage your mind and motivate you without distracting from the material.

Choose Coffee

Coffee contains caffeine, often providing a much-needed energy boost to start the day or to power through the last few pages of study material. But it can also have a positive effect on long-term memory. A study published in Nature Neuroscience showed that caffeine reduced forgetfulness over a 24-hour period.

To help you stay awake, the caffeine tricks your brain by blocking receptors for adenosine, an inhibitory neurotransmitter that makes you feel sleepy. When these receptors are blocked, the brain can feel alert. In addition, dopamine levels increase and, acting as an excitatory neurotransmitter, also help make you feel alert and focused.

Though coffee seems like a beneficial study tool, be mindful of how it affects you. For some, it can cause jitters and other negative side effects. So remember: moderation is key.

Change Your Scenery

Sometimes a simple change in scenery can make a world of difference. Studying the same material in the same location can get monotonous, but moving elsewhere forces the brain to form new associations.

Changing study spots gives your brain an opportunity to make more neural connections, ones that are stronger than they’d be if you stayed in one spot. This encourages better memory and productivity while reviving and refreshing your mind.

The same can also be said for studying multiple topics within a single session. Varying the material can help increase concentration and retention. It’s like working out or practicing an instrument — you don’t go to the gym and lift the same set of weights for an hour or sit in a rehearsal room and only play scales.

Regardless of your current study habits, make sure you find what works for you. Everyone learns differently, so whether you prefer studying late at night or early in the morning, group work or solo sessions, knowing what your body and brain need will set you up for success.

4 Study Strategies Powered by Science