University success demands a discipline that we all can learn. It could be argued that the students who claim honor’s degrees, scoring near-perfect GPAs, have two things going for them: (1) the right circumstances, such as plenty of free time for studies, and (2) mastery of study hacks.
Let’s look at some study hacks for achieving optimal grades, hacks that can pull us into the upper echelon of academic success. We’ll end by looking at what I consider to be the ideal—and the unideal—circumstances for aspiring toward academic stardom.
Highlight facts in our notes. Type them up or write them down on cue cards. Read them ten times a day, doubling up by also saying them aloud. Once we can guess what the cue cards say after seeing only the first few words, we’ve got them memorized. But review them once or twice a day until exam time, lest we forget what we’ve memorized.
Try to concentrate on one subject for extended time.
Some subjects demand a lengthy study duration. If we can concentrate on one subject at a time, studying it for a long stretch of hours, coupled with short breaks, we can get into the mindset needed for mastery.
Fill up idle time with studies.
Whether we’re crunched for time or have the luxury of long study sessions, take advantage of every free moment, including idle time.
For instance, we might find ourselves waiting in line at a bank, grocery store, or elsewhere. Take that time to pull out and memorize a cheat sheet of study notes. Of course, that means we must prepare a cheat sheet and carry it wherever we go.
As another example, if we’re waiting for a ride, or have a few moments free time, we could cram in a study sprint. During such idle time, we could pull out our books, or map out a study strategy, or review our calendars that list all our assignment due dates, anything to get us in study mode. But ask ourselves, could we spend that fifteen minutes more productively? If so, we have a chance to switch gears to a more productive task, making an even bigger bang with our free time.
Before bed, mentally assess each day’s work.
Before we nod off, we’d gain by running through actions we took throughout our study session. Did we run into any snags? Any mental roadblocks? Any wasted time? If so, map out how we can turn these issues around, empowering our next study session.
But we also gain from figuring out what worked well, making a plan to repeat that action. Did we make an outline, for instance, one quote and citation per entry? Did the outline speed up our essay writing by a thousand-fold? If so, do it again, especially if it boosts our grades.
Before bed, read two pages of class notes.
We’ve all heard the adage that what we think about, right before we fall asleep, we tend to process, mull over, analyze, and resolve while asleep. Studying before bed, therefore, offers an opportunity to strengthen our comprehension of our study notes. Read two pages of class notes before bed, and by the end of 3 months, we’ll have read 180 pages in the comfort of our quilts.
Study every day.
This rule—study every day—strikes me as the most important one. When we aim to study every free moment, every day, and we get into that habit, without fail, we forge the groundwork for academic success. To study every day, we need to make academics a priority. In university, I studied three courses a semester, studying eight hours a day, taking time out for fifteen-minute breaks, a break inserted after every thirty-minute study stint, for the most part, without fail. I timed the breaks and study sessions with a little manual timer, which I bought at a kitchen supply store. This method led me to achieve over a 3.9 out of 4 GPA, a GPA high enough for me to win the silver medallion. I believe we all have graduate degree potential, if given the right circumstances.
But later in life, I didn’t adopt the same discipline. I was spread all over the place, achieving little, but constantly busy on non-school tasks. If I were to get hyper-focused on studies again, I’d want to plan for a low-income lifestyle, distance myself from distractions, and prepare to coop up in a study space, preferably a home office, for the next four or more years. I’d also hope to set aside savings, prior to the plunge, so that I could buy my textbooks in advance and read ahead, prior to the course start date. Reading ahead was critical—let me say it again, “Critical!”—for success in my courses, most notably, in my math classes.
We must find ways to prioritize our academics, especially if graduate school is our calling. Double up by adopting as many study hacks as possible, while coupling up with the circumstances for success. With the right hacks, all of us can achieve the glory of academic stardom. It’s a power we can learn.