Active Studying

Overhead image of students seated around a table

Studying actively means engaging with the material in a way that is meaningful and promotes retention.  Reading over class notes or presentation slides, for example, is considered passive studying; it will not test your true understanding of the material and will only help you retain information minimally

Active studying involves organizing information into charts and graphs, summarizing, creating flash cards and outlines, etc. In short, it requires doing

How can I begin to study actively? 

With so many distractions around you (people, your phone, social media, etc.), it’s hard to get into productive study mode. Chunk your study hours into timed, intense mini-sessions by following these steps:  

  1. Set a goal.  For example, decide which math problems you will work on or which theories in your psychology course you will compare/contrast.  
  2. Set a timer for 30-50 minutes and study with focus. This is the hard part because you really want to pick up your phone to see who just texted you! Don’t tell yourself that you CAN’T check your texts. That will feel like a punishment; instead, tell yourself that you CAN do this after you have completed 30-50 minutes of focused studying. That is your reward! 
  3. Reward yourself for 10-15 minutes. Check your text messages or play a short game, get a snack or stretch. 
  4. Take 5 minutes to review what you just studied. 
  5. Repeat steps 1-4. Switch to a different subject, whenever possible; this strategy is known to help with retention.  

Step 2 can be particularly problematic for many students because we are so used to being connected – texting someone, checking social media, watching a YouTube video, etc. Studying with focus can be a challenge because it requires you to disconnect and focus on only on studying; one way to help with this “disconnected” feeling is to study alongside a friend/classmate.  

If you don’t have a reliable study buddy, consider using the technique in this video. It illustrates the Pomodoro method, which can help you stay focused for a set amount of time; the video may even help you feel like you’re studying with someone.

Works Consulted:  

Frank, Thomas. [Thomas Frank]. (2016, November 15). Study with Me. [Video].YouTube. 

McGuire, S. Y. (2015). Teach students how to learn: Strategies you can incorporate into any course to improve student metacognition, study skills, and motivation. Stylus Publishing, LLC. 

Paul, K. (2014). Study smarter, not harder. Self-Counsel Press.