12 Secrets to Academic Success

12 Secrets to Academic Success

We asked our team of Harvard students for their best study tips, and here's what they answered:

  1. Divide and Conquer: In order to avoid the stress of pulling an allnighter and cramming as much information as possible, you should always aim to divide the workload before any major assessment so that you can process the information bit by bit. We recommend reserving at least an hour a day for the week prior to your scheduled test. Some quick ways to split up the material include dividing it by chapter, number of pages, historical period, and equation formula.
  2. Keep a Calendar: While not everyone has the time to keep a detailed planner or virtual calendar, you should always keep track of important dates so that they don’t sneak up on you. For example, if your teacher gives you a syllabus at the beginning of the semester, make note of all the dates for your exams and tests. Or if your teacher doesn’t tell you the overall plan from the get go, make sure to write down an upcoming test date as soon as it’s mentioned. In addition to your academic commitments, it’s also important to note any major events or extracurricular activities you have coming up like a soccer game or birthday party so that you can adjust your studying accordingly.
  3. The Pomodoro Technique: For all students struggling with procrastination, the Pomodoro Technique is just the thing for you! A time management system, the Pomodoro Technique entails breaking your work into 25 minute chunks segmented by five minute breaks. After four 25 minute chunks, or “pomodoros”, you can take a longer break of 15-20 minutes. This way, you can motivate yourself to accomplish tasks during each pomodoro without burning out thanks to the breaks.
  4. Location Location Location: Though students may be tempted to stick to whatever study location they have found successful in the past, it may be helpful to switch it up and find another place to study. When a student spends a large amount of time in one place, the memories associated with that place can become homogenous and more difficult to differentiate from one another. If you tend to study at one particular desk in the library, try moving to a different part of the room, or even a different building altogether.
  5. Unplug:Some students find it difficult to stay away from the distractions on their devices, which is why different apps have developed ways to stay focused. A few of our favorites include Forest, which stops users from opening apps on their phone, and SelfControl, which temporarily blocks access to certain websites on your computer.
  6. Sweet Dreams: Reread whatever notes you’ve taken while studying during the day right before bed. Research studies have found that students tend to retain information better after a good night’s sleep. That is, looking over your notes before bed will be more helpful than going back to them in the morning, so try doing a little bit of review night by night rather than looking it all over the morning of the test. In addition, you should make sure to get a good night’s sleep the night before your test, because insufficient sleep can lead to trouble remembering everything you’ve studied.
  7. Reward Yourself: Everyone enjoys tasks that come with rewards, so why not add some to your studying? Whether it’s giving yourself a snack after reading a certain number of pages or letting yourself watch that movie you’ve been meaning to see after you study for the big test, granting yourself positive experiences will help you stay motivated and avoid procrastination.
  8. Ask The Teacher: While it may seem straightforward, many students forget to use their best resource when studying: the teacher. Your teacher will be the one administering your evaluation, which is why they should be your go-to source for answering questions and helping you identify which material to prioritize in your studying. Ask your teacher if they’d be free to answer any questions you have about what you’re studying or to go over the parts of your study guide that you have the most trouble with.
  9. Gimme a Break: Just like any athlete needs water after a tough practice, you should also be balancing any hardcore study sessions with a healthy amount of breaks and rest. Stand up and stretch after long periods of reading, grab a snack to replenish your energy, or watch a short episode of TV to allow your mind to relax. Your brain is just as much of a muscle as your biceps or calves, which means that it can also get burned out if you overwork it.
  10. Set Goals…: Many students struggle to focus on big tasks, especially in the subjects that they don’t particularly enjoy or have an affinity for. When this is the case, a great to orient yourself and maintain the same level of interest as you have in your favorite subjects is to find a concrete goal that motivates you to succeed. For example, maybe you didn’t perform particularly well on your last test, so now your goal is to improve by a few points on this next one.
  11. ...But Make Sure They’re SMART
    1. When setting any goals, academic or not, a handy way to test whether your goal is both helpful and attainable is to test it against the SMART formula. Each letter stands for the following:
    2. Specific: Narrow down your goal, like understanding how to use the quadratic formula, rather than holding ambiguous goals, like being better at math.
    3. Measurable: Any great goal is one that you can actually measure and identify when it’s been achieved. For instance, instead of aiming to simply do better on the next test, choose a certain amount of points or percentage values so that you can quickly measure yourself up.
    4. Achievable: Make sure your goal is realistic. Nobody can master a subject overnight, so give yourself an achievable goal with a healthy amount of time to work towards.
    5. Relevant: This one almost goes without saying, but consider how relevant your goal is to the topic at hand. Are you setting this goal for yourself, or for others? And will your achievement of this goal actually help you with the subject as a whole, or is it only limited to the task at hand?
    6. Time-restrained: Though you want to make sure that your goal is suitable for the time that you have, restraining your goal to time is one of the best ways to motivate you to get it done and avoid procrastination.
  12. Practice Makes Perfect: One of the best ways to prepare for any test is to practice as if you were taking the real thing. Although not every teacher or class will have practice tests available for you, that doesn’t mean this isn’t an option. In fact, many students find this method extra helpful if they are the ones to create the practice test. When drafting your own practice test, take some of the practice questions or problems your teacher has mentioned in class, assigned for homework, or given on tests in the past. You know yourself best, so keep in mind which topics you need to pay the most attention to and balance all the different subjects that might be covered on the test so you don’t miss anything.

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