13 effective study methods and how to use them (2023)
A list of the best study methods, including how-to guides and online tools that will help you build successful study habits.
- The Feynman Technique
- The Pomodoro Technique
- The Leitner System
- Spaced Repetition
- The SQ3R Method
- The PQ4R Method
- Active Recall / Retrieval Practice
- The Blurting Method
- Mnemonic Techniques
- Multisensory Learning
- Study Mind Maps
- Which is the best study method?
- Free PDF tools for students
Keep reading to find out about the most effective study methods and how to use them
Are you trying to find the best study methods and enrich your learning techniques? With so many distractions pulling us away from important revision, using study methods like the Pomodoro Technique and the Leitner System can be a great way to focus, improve memory, and better understand the way we learn.
This post will outline some of the best study techniques that you can implement in your daily routines, giving you practical tips and useful study tools that will help boost your grades and unleash your study potential.
The Feynman Technique
What is The Feynman Technique?
The Feynman Technique is a study method named after Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist known for his work in science and mathematics, and his incredible ability to simplify complex terms.
The technique involves breaking down a concept into simple components and then explaining it in your own words as if you were teaching it to someone else.
You can effectively learn and retain complex ideas by identifying gaps in your understanding and simplifying your explanation until it's clear and concise.
How to study with The Feynman Technique
The base of using The Feynman Technique is to take your material, summarize it in your own words, and then try to explain the topic in a way that even a child would understand.
Being able to explain complex ideas in simple terms is a hard skill to work on, and it tests your own knowledge by forcing you to understand the topic well enough to be able to teach it.
1. Choose a concept you want to study: Start by selecting a topic or concept you want to understand better. This could be anything from a scientific theory to a historical event.
2. Write down what you know: Take a piece of paper and write down everything you already know about the concept. Be as detailed as possible, but use your own words.
3. Identify knowledge gaps & use revision material: Once you've written down what you know, identify the gaps in your knowledge. What don't you understand? What questions do you have about the concept? Use textbooks, lectures, and other resources to do further research.
4. Simplify the concept & explain the ideas to a child: Now try to simplify the material as much as possible. Use analogies, examples, and metaphors to explain the ideas in a way that anyone, including a child, could understand.
Why does The Feynman Technique help you study?
The Feynman Technique is an effective study method because it helps you identify gaps in your knowledge of a topic and lets you build a deeper understanding of the material through teaching, questioning, and self-correction.
The act of teaching itself leads to a psychological phenomenon known as the “protégé effect”, which shows evidence that teaching or even pretending to teach helps you learn by improving brain processing and increasing your use of effective learning strategies.
If you can’t effectively explain the topic in simple terms, then you haven’t yet understood it in enough detail yet.
Useful study tools
Convert PDF to PowerPoint: Create an editable PowerPoint directly from PDF content to make it easier to teach and revise your topic in a presentation format.
Photomath: Use this app for revising maths equations. When you switch back to your revision material to identify and overcome knowledge gaps, this app scans your equation, showing the steps to solve it with animated tutorials.
The Pomodoro Technique
What is the Pomodoro Technique?
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method designed to make you more productive and focused.
Developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s, the technique involves breaking your work into timed intervals, typically 25 minutes in length, called "Pomodoros," separated by short breaks.
How to study with The Pomodoro Technique
1. Choose your topic.
2. Set a timer for 25 minutes.
3. Work on the topic until the timer goes off.
4. Take a short break (usually 5 minutes).
5. After every fourth Pomodoro, take a longer break (usually 15-30 minutes).
Why does the Pomodoro Technique help you study?
One of the ways that the Pomodoro Technique improves your study skills is by reducing distractions. When you set the timer, you dedicate that time to focusing on your study. This helps you resist the temptations of mobiles, emails, and other distractions that we fight in the modern world.
The breaks in this method also play a key factor in your ability to focus and learn, as studies show that brief rest “vastly” improves your concentration.
Also, by breaking up your study time into small intervals, you develop your time management skills to plan out your day and ensure you’re making progress. This gives you a sense of accomplishment, helping you find the motivation to keep going. Small milestones can have big results.
Useful study tools
Marinara Timer: Are you trying to study with the Pomodoro Technique, but don’t want your phone to distract you? Use the Marinara timer to make sure you stick to the Pomodoro intervals.
Forest: This Pomodoro timer creates digital trees that grow if you don’t lose focus. Plant a seed, build a virtual forest, and eventually plant trees in real life by earning virtual coins that are used to donate to the organization "Trees For The Future".
The Leitner System
What is the Leitner System?
The Leitner System is a study method that was created by a German psychologist named Sebastian Leitner in the 1970s.
This method is based on the principle of spaced repetition, which means that learning is more effective when spaced out over time rather than jamming everything into one session.
How to study with The Leitner System
The Leitner System uses flashcards as a tool for learning. You organize your flashcards into boxes, with the first box containing new cards you haven’t memorized yet.
As the cards are reviewed and you answer correctly, they are moved to the next box. Cards that are answered incorrectly are moved back to the first box.
1. Create the flashcards: Start by creating flashcards for the material you want to learn. On the front of each card, write a question or a cue, and on the back, write the answer or information that corresponds to the question.
2. Make your boxes: Create and label boxes that you will put the cards in. You can keep it simple with numbers or use labels like “easy”, “medium”, and “hard” to organize the flashcards into difficulty levels.
3. Review your flashcards: Review the flashcards by reading the side with the question. If you answer correctly, move the card into the next box. If you answer incorrectly, move the card back a box.
4. Gradually increase difficulty: Once you feel confident with the cards in box 1, move on to box 2 and repeat the process.
5. Repeat: Repeat the process by moving cards to higher boxes as you understand them, and reviewing the cards in the easier boxes less often.
Why does the Leitner System help?
The Leitner System is an effective study method because it is based on the principle of spaced repetition, which has been shown to improve learning and retention.
Practicing over a four-month period for just 30 minutes a day “you can expect to learn and retain 3600 flashcards with 90 to 95 percent accuracy”.
By organizing flashcards into boxes and reviewing them at spaced intervals, the Leitner System ensures that you are regularly exposed to the material and that you focus your efforts on areas that need the most attention.
Useful study tools
What is Spaced Repetition?
Spaced repetition is a study technique that is based on the principle of spacing out learning over time. The technique involves reviewing information at increasing intervals, with more time between reviews as you become more confident with the material.
The concept of spaced repetition is based on the studies of psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, who conducted research on memory and learning in the late 19th century. Ebbinghaus found that spaced repetition improved retention and learning to overcome the “forgetting curve”.
How to study with Spaced Repetition
This method is designed to help the brain retain information for longer by spreading out your studies over time instead of doing too much at once.
1. Create: Begin by creating study materials such as flashcards, notes, or summaries.
2. Review: Review the material within 24 hours of writing your material, but first, try to pull what you can from your memory alone without reading anything.
3. Repeat: Repeat this process by trying to remember your study material without relying on notes, although you can use them as prompts (like the use of flashcards in the Leitner System).
Why does Spaced Repetition help you study?
Spaced repetition is an efficient study technique because it is based on the principles of cognitive psychology and has been shown to improve retention and learning.
Studies show that using this technique “enhances the learning or acquisition of skills” in adults and also has beneficial effects on grammar skills in younger learners.
Our brain struggles to effectively store and remember lots of information in a short period of time, so reviewing the material multiple times over a longer period prevents this.
Useful study tools
Quizlet: Creating flashcards is one of the most efficient ways to practice spaced repetition, with the Leitner System mentioned above being just one example of how you might do this.
The SQ3R Method
What is the SQ3R Method?
The SQ3R Method is a study technique that can help you effectively read and retain information from textbooks and other written materials.
It’s proposed that by engaging deeper in the text before, during, and after the reading process, readers are expected to increase their understanding of the material.
Developed by psychologist Francis P. Robinson in the 1940s, the SQ3R Method stands for: Survey, Question, Read, Recite, and Review.
How to study with the SQ3R method
1. Survey: Review the material you are about to read by scanning headings, subheadings, and other important features. The idea is to get a sense of the material’s structure and prepare your mind for what you are about to read.
2. Question: Formulate questions based on the material you are about to read to engage with the material and focus your attention on the most important points.
3. Read: Next, ensure you actively and carefully read the material. As you read, you should try to answer the questions from the previous step and take note of key information.
4. Recite: Recal the information you just read and put it into your own words. This step can help you internalize the material and reinforce your understanding.
5. Review: Finally, go back over the material and revise your understanding. This step can help you identify any areas where you may still be unclear and reinforce your comprehension.
Why does the SQ3R Method help you study?
The SQ3R method can help improve your study skills by promoting active reading and engagement with the material. By asking questions, summarizing key points, and reviewing your understanding, you are more likely to retain information and apply it to future contexts.
SQ3R is another method that improves your critical thinking skills. By formulating questions and summarizing key points, you are engaging with the material at a deeper level and developing a more balanced understanding of it.
Useful study tools
Convert websites to PDF: After finding a website with visual research material - save the HTML as PDF so you don’t lose the design. Visual content is more memorable than simple text.
The PQ4R Method
What is the PQ4R method?
The PQ4R method is one of the techniques used to help students memorize material, and was developed by E. L. Thomas and H. A. Robinson in the 1970s. It is similar to the SQ3R method, but with an additional step, Reflect.
The PQ4R method consists of: Preview, Question, Read, Reflect, Recite, and Review.
How to study with the PQ4R method
1. Preview: Quickly scan material to get a sense of its overall structure and organization. This step can help you set goals for your reading and create a mental framework for the information.
2. Question: Create questions based on the material. This step can help you focus your attention on the most important points and engage with the material in a more meaningful way.
3.Read: Engage in reading the material without distractions. As you read, you should take notes and try to answer the questions you formulated.
4. Reflect: Stop, and take a break from reading to reflect on the material. Ask yourself questions about the material, like “why is this important?”, and “how does this relate to why I already know?”.
5. Recite: Reword the content you have been studying to see how much you can remember and how well you can explain it.
6. Review: Go back over the material and check your understanding. This step can help you identify any areas where you may still be unclear to better plan your next steps.
Why does the PQ4R Method help you study?
Research found that implementing the PQ4R method played a “significant” role in the improvement of students’ reading comprehension.
The PQ4R method engages learners in an active, systematic approach to reading and learning. You are encouraged to actively engage, ask questions, and reflect on your understanding. This approach can help learners better understand and retain information, as well as develop critical thinking skills.
Do you struggle with structure? The PQ4R method, similar to SQR3, provides a structured and systematic approach to learning, which can help you feel more confident and in control of your studies.
Going further than the SQ3R method, adding the “Reflect” step is a useful way to take a break and take a step back to see the bigger picture and give yourself important rest time.
Useful study tools
Merge PDF: Make it easier to review all of your material by organizing it in one efficient file. First, use the Convert to PDF tools so the files are the same type, then start organizing with the merge tool.
Notta: Convert audio to text with this app that can help you focus when reading. When you are scanning and reading text, use this app to create your questions without losing focus by switching tabs to write things down.
Active Recall / Retrieval Practice
What is Active Recall?
Active Recall (also known as Retrieval Practice, Practice Testing, or The Testing Effect) is a study method that involves actively recalling information from memory as a way to reinforce learning, instead of just reading over material.
Retrieval practice and its related terms have been mentioned in numerous studies beginning around the late 1800s, and more recent results from 2011 provide evidence that students can improve by an entire grade using these techniques.
Retrieval practice is a feature of some of the best study techniques and should be seen as a tool to be used with other methods like flashcards and quizzes.
How to study with active recall
1. Start to study: Start by studying a topic or concept in-depth.
2. Organize your time: Set aside some time to remember what you've learned.
3. Try to remember the meterial: This could involve writing out what you remember, verbally explaining the material to someone else, or even just thinking about the information. Do this without referring to your notes or textbook.
4. Use active recall with other study methods: Use retrieval practice with the other techniques in this post such as the Leitner System for the best results.
Why does retrieval practice help you study?
Studies show that retrieval practice can significantly improve long-term retention of information, even more so than other study techniques such as re-reading and summarizing.
The act of recalling information from memory strengthens neural pathways in the brain and makes it easier to retrieve that information in the future.
When you attempt to recall information, you are more likely to notice what you don't know or understand fully. This is useful for knowing how and what you need to study next.
Useful study tools
Quizlet: This is a great way to test your knowledge by creating questions from your study material. Self-testing is a key part of practicing retrieval practice.
Edit PDF remotely: Download your study material as PDF to revise from anywhere and make the most of travel time. The iLovePDF Mobile App enables you to edit and annotate your study material from anywhere on your mobile device, particularly useful when starting to revise a new topic.
The Blurting Method
What is the Blurting Method?
The blurting method is an example of using active recall in practice. This study technique involves writing down all of your thoughts about a topic without worrying about organizing them.
This relatively new term has risen in popularity thanks to a YouTuber in the ‘Study Sphere’ known as Unjaded Jade.
How to study with the blurting method
The method involves setting a timer for a set period, usually around 10-15 minutes, and writing down everything that comes to mind about the topic you're studying.
You can use this method for brainstorming ideas, writing an outline, or just getting your thoughts on paper. The idea is to write continuously without stopping to edit or organize your thoughts.
1. Start by choosing your topic.
2. Set a timer for 10-15 minutes.
3. Start writing: Start writing down everything that comes to mind about the topic, writing whatever comes into your head without worrying about organization.
4. Take a break: When the timer goes off, take a break and come back to your writing. You can then read through what you've written and start organizing your thoughts into a more coherent outline or essay.
Why does the blurting method help?
The benefits of the blurting method in part come from practicing the ‘active recall’ mentioned earlier in this post. This technique is a practical and quick way to test how much of a topic you remember as a test of your engagement.
The blurting method also helps you overcome writer's block by ignoring your inner critic and simply getting your ideas down. This is especially helpful if you're struggling to get started on a writing assignment or if you're feeling generally stuck—just start writing!
Useful study tools
Coggle: Create mind maps to organize your notes into similar topics after you have blurted the information out.
Notability: Write down your notes with Notability for notes that are colorful and creative. You can also find useful templates in the Gallery section.
What is interleaving?
Interleaving is a study technique that involves mixing up different types of problems or topics during practice sessions, rather than practicing one type of problem or topic at a time.
The technique is based on the idea that changing study material and topics makes it easier for the brain to distinguish between different types of information.
The concept of interleaving has been around for several decades, and was first proposed in the context of motor learning. More recently, researchers have found that interleaving can also be effective in academic settings, particularly in math and science.
How to study with interleaving
1. Select your topics: Start by selecting two or more related topics or types of problems that you want to practice. For example, if you are studying calculus, you might choose to practice both integration and differentiation problems.
2. Switch between your topics: Alternate between the different types of problems during your practice session. Rather than practicing all integration problems and then all differentiation problems, for example, you would mix them up randomly.
3. Don't rush each topic: Give yourself enough time to switch between the different types of problems. This can be challenging at first, but with practice, your brain will become more adept at recognizing the different types of information and switching between them.
Why does interleaving help you study?
Interleaving is associated with a faster and improved acquisition of new skills, as well as the development of your existing knowledge.
It helps to improve learning and retention by making it easier for the brain to distinguish between different types of information, recognize similarities and differences between the topics, and apply them to new situations.
Interleaving can also help you avoid the "illusion of mastery" where you feel like you understand a concept after practicing it repeatedly, but are unable to apply it to new situations.
By mixing up different types of problems, you are forced to think more critically about the material and apply it in different ways, creating a more well-rounded understanding of the topics.
Useful study tools
Merge PDF: Are you struggling to keep track of your topics? Get your documents organized by merging your study material into efficient file categories that contain your topic’s material in one place.
Scan PDF: Do you have both physical and digital study material? Upload and scan paper content into digital material to make switching between your topics easier and more organized.
What is the Elaboration study strategy?
Elaboration is a study method that involves adding extra details to the material you are trying to learn in order to increase your understanding and retention with better context.
It was developed by Charles Reigeluth in the 1970s, who believed that by adding more information to the basic facts, students would be able to retain the information for longer periods of time.
Elaboration is based on the idea that our brains are more likely to remember something that has been processed deeply, rather than something that has only been superficially processed.
How to study with elaboration
Start by taking the information you want to learn and adding additional details to it. For example, if you are studying a particular historical event, you might add details about the individuals involved, the social and political context of the time, and the impact of the event on society.
Relating the material to your own experience is also a useful technique when implementing the elaboration study technique. Your own memories and experiences can be used as a powerful tool.
1. Select a topic: Choose a historical event to study, such as the American Revolution.
2. Summarize: Read a summary of the event to get a basic understanding of what happened.
3. Elaborate: Begin to elaborate on the information you have learned by adding details about the key individuals involved, such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
4. Add information: Add information about the social and political context of the time, such as the tensions between the American colonies and Great Britain.
5. Connect to context: Make connections between the event and other historical events, such as the French Revolution or the Civil War.
6. Connect to personal experience: Connect the event to your own personal experiences, such as thinking about how the values of the American Revolution relate to your own beliefs about freedom and democracy.
Why does elaboration help you study?
Elaboration is an ‘encoding technique’, meaning that you must process and integrate new ideas to best understand them. This helps you to deeply engage with the material more than if you were simply reading and taking notes.
When you simply memorize information without processing it deeply, you are less likely to remember it later and less able to use it in a meaningful way.
Elaboration helps to ensure that you are not just memorizing information, but truly understanding it, and linking it to what you already know.
Useful study tools
Evernote: Create and track your notes on a topic by organizing them all in one place. This can help you elaborate on your material by making it easier to find your relevant material.
Split PDF: Study material is often in PDF format. With this tool, extract and save the most important PDF pages when you are summarizing and elaborating on your topic.
What are mnemonic techniques?
Mnemonic techniques are memory aids that help individuals to remember information more effectively. The word mnemonic originates from the Greek word “mnemonics,” which means "of or relating to memory".
These techniques are created to help people remember complex or lengthy information such as names, dates, and facts. Mnemonic devices make use of different methods, including imagery, acronyms, rhymes, songs, and other forms of creative association.
The use of mnemonic techniques dates back to ancient times, with various cultures developing their unique strategies to improve their memory.
How to study with mnemonic devices
Mnemonic devices can be applied to a wide range of learning materials such as speeches, poems, languages, mathematical formulas, and historical facts, to name a few.
The primary objective of a mnemonic device is to make learning more engaging and interactive.
Mnemonic techniques are often broken down into around eight different types, including:
Visual Mnemonics: Use mental images to remember information. For example, to remember the name of a scientist, visualize them in a ridiculous outfit (the more ridiculous the better).
Alliteration Mnemonics: Use words with the same initial sound or letter to remember information. For example, to remember an idea like Stoicism, think of other words beginning with “S” that describe it, like “self-control”.
Keyword Mnemonics: Associate a new word or concept with a familiar word or concept. For example, to remember "badinage" (playful conversation), associate it with "bad".
Acronym Mnemonics: Create a word or phrase from the first letters of a list of words to be remembered. For example, PEMDAS for the order of mathematical operations (parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction).
Rhyme Mnemonics: Use rhyming words or phrases to remember information. For example, "Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November" helps you remember the number of days each month.
Music Mnemonics: Link information with a musical tune or rhythm. By singing or reciting information to a familiar melody, it becomes easier to remember.
Connection Mnemonics: Associate information with a personal connection or something you already know. By connecting new information with something familiar, it becomes easier to remember.
Why do mnemonic techniques help you study?
Mnemonic techniques turn our body into a study tool by boosting our ability to memorize. A 2019 paper found that mnemonic devices make learning more productive by working with the way that our brain takes in information.
Mnemonic devices effectively improve your memory by making the learning process more engaging and memorable, a technique that can help reduce stress and anxiety to enhance the learning experience even further.
Useful study tools
Acronymify: Easily create acronym mnemonics by entering the words you need to generate a list of acronyms for you to choose from.
What is multisensory learning?
Multisensory learning is a study method that involves engaging different senses to process information. It was created based on the understanding that people learn in different ways and that everyone has unique strengths and weaknesses when it comes to studying
Multisensory learning is accociated with the studies of Orton and Gillingham, who were pioneers in the field of education that relates to learning difficulties. It combines auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learning methods to engage learners through multiple senses and enhance their ability to remember and understand new information.
How to study with multisensory learning
Using multisensory learning in your studies involves incorporating different senses into your study routine. Here are a few examples of how you might use multisensory learning:
Visual aids: Use visual aids such as diagrams, charts, and graphs to help you understand and remember information.
Audio learning: Listen to lectures or recordings to hear information presented in an auditory format.
Physical learning: Act out or physically manipulate information to engage your kinaesthetic sense, such as creating a model or conducting a science experiment.
Combine different methods for the best results.
Why does multisensory learning help you study?
Research shows that learning is most effective when it is interactive and engages multiple senses. Multisensory learning is useful for studying because it enhances your ability to process and retain information, creating multiple pathways to store and retrieve things.
This can be particularly helpful for people who have difficulty learning through traditional methods or those who struggle with motivation.
Multisensory learning can make studying more interesting and engaging by focusing on ways to learn that are more interactive than just sitting down with a pen and paper.
Useful study tools
Edit PDF: Add photos to your study material using the Edit PDF tool. It’s proven that associating images with your study material boosts your ability to remember it.
Speechify: An interesting way to include multisensory learning in your studies. With this tool, take written text and convert it to audio by choosing from a range of voices to read it.
Study Mind Maps
What are mind maps?
Mind maps are a classic within the education system and it’s almost certain you’ve already heard of them, but they are a classic for a reason.
Mind maps involve creating a visual representation of your thoughts by writing an idea or topic in a central bubble, then branching out with related ideas and subtopics.
This technique was popularized by Tony Buzan, a British author and educational consultant, as a way to help people better understand and remember information.
You can use this method for brainstorming, note-taking, outlining, or organizing your thoughts. The idea is to create a visual map that shows the relationships between different ideas and how they relate to the central topic.
How to study with mind maps
An effective mind map shows the relationships between different ideas and how they relate to the central topic.
As you add more ideas and subtopics, use colors, symbols, and images to make your mind map more visually appealing and easier to remember.
1. Select topic: First, choose a central topic or idea that you want to study. Write this in the center of a blank piece of paper or digital document and draw a circle around it.
2. Start brainstorming: Next, start brainstorming related ideas and subtopics, and connect them to the central idea with lines or branches.
Why do mind maps help you study?
Organizing your thoughts and ideas in a visual way makes it easier to remember and understand information. By creating a visual map of how different ideas relate to each other, you can see the big picture and make connections between different pieces of information.
Mind maps are linked to a 10% to 15% increase in the retention of information, improved creativity that helps your brain to jump around and make conclusions, and better connections between the material.
Mind maps are also a great tool for brainstorming new ideas. By branching out from a central idea, you might come up with new insights you hadn't considered before.
Useful study tools
Canva: Canva provides easy editing features to create engaging mind maps that are colorful and creative.
Xmind: This is another tool to create detailed study mind maps, offering some great design features.
Which is the best study method?
Are you tired of feeling like you're not getting the most out of your study sessions? Discover the power of effective study techniques.
There are a variety of effective study techniques available, such as the Pomodoro technique, the Leitner system, spaced repetition, and the Feynman technique—just to name a few from this list.
Each method has its unique advantages and can help you improve your academic performance in different ways. However, what works for one person might not work for another.
Whether you prefer a structured approach like the PQ4R method or a more creative technique like multisensory learning, start experimenting, and find the ones that work for you!
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