I used to know this guy in college who got A's for everything but hardly seemed to study. Annoying, right? While we were all sweating bullets with exam anxiety, cramming like crazy the day before finals, Haru was chilling and playing video games. He didn’t need to study, he said, because he'd "already done the work" ... during the semester.

We were all in awe of Haru, thinking he had a photographic memory or some other amazing cognitive talent that the genetic gods did not bestow on the rest of us. It wasn't until later that we learned that Haru wasn’t the reincarnation of Albert Einstein, he just knew how to study effectively.

And that's what this article is about: how to study effectively, for which I've got 10 actionable effective studying tips for you to follow.

Here's the thing:

Your brain is biologically engineered to learn in a certain way. Traditional study approaches don’t take this into account when you attempt to learn new information. You just keep reading and cramming, hoping the necessary facts will stick around long enough to get you through the exam. But if this worked, a lot more students would do better at school, college, and life.

If, however, you work with your brain’s cognitive hardwiring, just like Haru—rather than despite it or even AGAINST IT—you can learn faster and make studying so much less painful!

So, if you want to learn how to study effectively, you're in the perfect place to master the best studying techniques (and discover the best study tools) to help you learn much faster. Let's dive right in...

Start on DAY ONE of your course: Effective studying tips # 1

Don't wait until a test or exam rolls around for you to start ingraining the information in your brain. Start on day one. What I mean by that is this dedicate 20-30 minutes each day to:

  1. Reviewing all new information within 24 hours of initial exposure so that it is refreshed in your mind before you tackle the following day's classes;
  2. Previewing the following class's content beforehand so that you have a high-level view of what you're going to be learning to prime your brain for learning in class; and
  3. Coming back to the harder concepts so that you work them out and deeply ingrain them as they arise, thereby saving you the stress of confronting them all at once when an exam is around the corner.

If you devote time every day (depending on how content-heavy your course is), reviewing what you've covered previously and preparing for the next class, you will arrive at your exams completely fluent in your subject. You’ll have done the hard work of understanding, learning, and remembering the information.

How amazing will that feel?

Read the relevant textbook chapters BEFORE class: Effective study methods # 2

Course book with highlights for studying

Most educators like to assign a certain textbook chapter to read before each class. Yeah, I know. Like ANYONE does that. But you could be the one nerd who realizes just what an advantage this undemanding preparation gives you.

Reading the relevant section or chapter in a textbook before class primes your brain for learning, alerting you to what information is to come, and contributing enormously towards your understanding. And since you're going to have to read the textbook at some point anyway, reading before class requires no net addition of work.

So, why wouldn’t you do it?

Learn how to read so that you retain what you read: Best studying techniques # 3

Since most information is studied in the written word, a powerful and effective studying tip is to learn how to read properly so that you metabolize and retain that new information as efficiently as possible. Here's how you can do that...

(You can also check out this awesome guide: How to read faster and better.)

  • Review what you learned the day before. Quickly read through the previous lesson's outline or notes. This provides critical reinforcement of the material, thereby strengthening the new memory traces your brain makes before they evaporate in the normal nightly process of forgetting.
  • Quickly scan the textbook sections you'll be learning that day. Before each lecture (or the night before) scan over the section or chapter you will be covering in the next class. This gives you:
    • A high-level view of what’s to come,
    • An understanding of the most important, salient points,
    • Direction on the questions you need to ask in class to address any points of confusion.
  • Ask questions in class to fill in the gaps in your knowledge. Think about some questions you might ask to bridge any gaps in your understanding. Jot these down and make sure they get answered in the next lecture. This type of inquiry puts your brain into a problem-solving mode, which is powerful for learning and remembering information.
  • Take notes. Once you've reviewed the previous day's learnings, scanned the new chapter, and written down some questions, return to the beginning and read through the chapter more carefully, writing down the most salient points as you go along.

Taking notes fleshes out your understanding of the information, perhaps by adding examples, illustrations, or alternative descriptions. This also makes the material easier to review later, providing a more fleshed-out and personalized study aid.

Just don’t go highlighting everything on the page! (Check out: How to take good notes and how NOT to!)

Distill the information into condensed study notes: Best studying methods # 4

Now that you've done your pre-reading and jotted down some notes and questions, take a minute to deeply think about the take-home messages of the chapter or section you just read.

Write them down.

This potent summary strengthens the memory traces you’ve created in your brain, while also isolating that section’s most poignant information. This saves you from having to tease that information out later, therefore helping you study more efficiently in the future.

Answer questions on the material: Effective studying tips # 5

Take a little time after studying each section to recall aloud what you’ve just read from memory. You could even explain it to another student (or pretend to explain it out loud in your bedroom). This is called the Feynman Technique and it really, really works

Also, most textbooks contain at least a few questions after a chapter to compel you to stop and consider what you’ve read. Answer them.

This final act of recall and assessment will make the reading material "stick" for at least a day or two until you're able to cement it with further retrieval practice (more on this later). Testing yourself is an extremely effective memorization technique.

The benefits of these effective studying methods...

Do you see why this preparatory work is important? It may sound like a lot to do before you’ve even walked into your lecture but you are effectively setting yourself up for success. With this prep behind you, you’re going to understand what’s going on in the lecture, be able to ask perceptive questions, and earn the respect of your teacher.

Most importantly, when the time comes to study for exams, you’re going to have a solid memory of the coursework and a gorgeous set of succinct study notes to review, while your peers are scrabbling to re-learn the entire course, practically from scratch.

Now you know how to read your textbook and materials. Just remember that it’s key to do this BEFORE your lecture, in preparation for each lesson.

If you treat this pre-reading as non-negotiable homework, “Future You” will be even more grateful than when you wake up with your wallet, cell phone, and dignity after a night of tequila and bad life choices. Success!

Be smart in your note-taking strategy: Best study techniques # 6

If you've followed my advice on effective study methods so far, you'll have put yourself in a unique position the next time you walk into a lecture. Unlike everyone else in the room, you'll have:

  • Already started learning the material (as well as a 30,000-foot view of it).
  • An outline and the most important points already written down for the coming lesson. (Check out these other tips on how to take good notes for class.)
  • Identified your knowledge gaps, as well as questions to ask to make sure you don't get left behind.

So, while everyone else is desperately writing down every single word the lecturer says, you can for the most part sit back, listen, and absorb.

The only thing you'll need to do is write down what you haven’t already encountered in the textbook, which often isn't very much at all. This is a concept called "flow-based notetaking" and it frees students up to engage in the lecture, listen carefully to the teacher, and ask questions where appropriate.

And now the real ingraining of new knowledge can begin...

Consolidate your notes soon after the lecture: Best study methods # 7

Man writing notes on his laptop

Let’s assume you’ve (1) done your pre-reading homework, and (2) made your study notes. First of all: great job! That is literally 100% more than most of your peers have done. Now, comes the third component to deeply ingraining the new material in your brain: consolidating your notes.

This is where you improve, rewrite, or clean up the notes you’ve taken, combining the information from the lecture, textbook, and any other sources onto one sexy "cheat sheet", which you can use for future review and, of course, to study for the exam.

On this subject, timing is everything. Ideally, you should consolidate your notes immediately after the lecture or at least within 24 hours of it, taking advantage of that vulnerable time when the new knowledge could be easily forgotten. This may sound like extra work but, just as we discussed, it is an investment of time that has double the dividends at exam time.

Of course, written notes aren't the only way to do this. You can also transform your notes into a different format entirely, like a concept map or, even better, digital flashcards. To reframe information in a different format requires you to deeply understand that material, so this can be seen as a powerful revision tool.

And while we're on the subject...

Use adaptive, digital flashcards to study efficiently: Effective studying tips # 8

Comic image with batman

Flashcards have been used for centuries by serious students as a way to efficiently learn information-dense subjects. In fact, of Brainscape’s millions of users, many are postgraduate students preparing for super high-stakes exams.

Flashcards (done correctly):

  • Break concepts into the most important, fundamental, and manageable bite-sized facts.
  • Leverage the way your brain is hardwired to learn: cognitive scientists call this active recall, which involves thinking of the answer from scratch rather than passively reading through your notes or textbook.
  • Facilitate spaced repetition learning: repeating your exposure to the information is how to memorize it better.
  • Are the perfect vehicle for interleaving practice: switching randomly between different concepts and subjects, which strengthens your brain's neural connections to the information you're learning.

Remember right at the beginning of this article we explained that you are cognitively wired in a certain way? And that if you work with your brain—rather than struggling despite it or even against it—you can massively increase your rate of knowledge retention?

Flashcards do exactly this: they work with your cognitive wiring to help you learn.

This is why Brainscape’s study platform pivots on flashcards—and decades of cognitive science research—as such a useful mode of studying and information delivery.

Our engaging digital flashcards break concepts down into their fundamental, bite-sized learning objectives and engage your powers of active recall, while our spaced repetition algorithm calculates the exact timing to repeat the concepts you struggle with to optimize your learning.

Of course, you can always make your own paper flashcards too. But whether you use Brainscape, some other online flashcard app, or good old-fashioned pen and paper, doing this forces you to reframe your study notes into question-and-answer flashcard pairs. And as you do that, you engage the higher brain functions of analysis and synthesis to further strengthen your memories.

To nerd out on how Brainscape has helped millions of users smash their exams into the stratosphere, check out the cognitive science behind our flashcard software, or our comprehensive guide to using and making flashcards.

Make studying a daily practice: Effective study methods # 9

It can be hard to make a daily investment of time in your studies when you have so many other commitments on your plate: assignments to finish, papers to write, clingy boyfriends to validate… I get it. But at few other times is it as stressful and as chaotic as it is in the run-up to exams.

The thing is, studying a little bit every day eliminates the vast majority of this stress and chaos. This empowers you to perform when it matters most: when exams roll around.

The reason why creating a daily habit out of studying is so important is simple: the more we are exposed to information, the more we are likely to remember it. It’s the same reason so many people still remember their home phone number from when they were growing up ... because they used it so often.

This is why flashcard apps are such effective study tools. Aside from feeding your brain information the way it was biologically wired to retain it—via spaced repetition—the apps themselves are incredibly accessible and convenient to use: as simple as opening your phone and tapping the study button.

The longer you maintain your daily study streak, the greater the power of spaced repetition compounds. And if you practice it from the outset of your subject, you’ll approach exam time already a master of your subject!

Pro Tip: You can easily set yourself study reminders in the flashcard app Brainscape: gentle “nags” that'll help you keep your daily study streak alive!

Brainscape study streak reminders

To activate, simply go into the menu in the mobile app (left), select Notifications, and then you can then toggle on Streak Reminders (top right). Those will show up as push notifications on your phone’s home screen (bottom right) reminding you to stop what you’re doing and put in a quick study round with Brainscape. You can also customize the time of day you’d prefer to receive your reminders!

Teach to learn your subject far more thoroughly: Best studying techniques # 10

The best way to learn is to teach

If this well-known Latin principle is familiar to you it’s because it’s so popular and so true. Think about it: for you to teach someone something well, need to know it inside-out, in great detail, and from the foundations up. And so, the mere act of teaching helps you:

  1. Develop a deep and intricate understanding of a subject, and
  2. Identify gaps in your knowledge.

So, as the day of your exam approaches, practice teaching your subject, progressively working through its various concepts, chapters, and topics. You could do this with a real person (if you can find a willing victim) or it could be an imaginary one. It could even be your pet kitten or indoor plant. Pretend you’re the lecturer and they’re the student.

Woman teaching a kitten while the kitten yawns

When you teach, attempt to distill the content down to its simplest form (a strategy known as the Feynman Technique) so it’s immediately understandable to your “students”. This will also help you identify where your understanding of a topic might be lacking.

Reciting a massive brain dump of everything you know is the best way to solidify new knowledge, not only for an upcoming exam but permanently, for life. The more knowledge you bank permanently, the easier it is to build on it during future classes and for real-world use.

Final thoughts on how to study effectively

Congratulations, you made it through Brainscape’s epic guide on how to study effectively for your exams! Here’s a plate of cookies:

Plate of cookies for learning how to study

So there you have it, our 10 best tips on how to study effectively:

  1. Start on DAY ONE of your course
  2. Read the relevant textbook chapters BEFORE class
  3. Learn how to read so that you retain WHAT you read
  4. Distill the information into condensed study notes
  5. Put yourself to the test by answering questions on the material
  6. Be smart in your note-taking strategy
  7. Consolidate your notes SOON after the lecture
  8. Use adaptive, digital flashcards to study efficiently
  9. Make studying a DAILY practice
  10. Teach your subject to learn it far more thoroughly

These effective studying tips will help you learn so much faster, remember for longer, and in general make learning painless and frictionless. Practice these tenets always, and you will fearlessly triumph over all exams and tests that come your way. Break them and you can look forward to late nights of cramming, sleep deprivation, and extreme caffeination. (And possibly poor test scores, career disappointments, and perished dreams. Not that we want to freak you out or anything ...)

There are no shortcuts.

Stay the course, and you will become one of those elite (but annoying) students like Haru, who studies only half as much as everyone else, gets plenty of sleep, and ends up scoring straight A’s.

The choice (as always) is yours ...


Biwer, F., Egbrink, M. G. a. O., Aalten, P., & De Bruin, A. B. H. (2020). Fostering effective learning strategies in higher education—A mixed-methods study. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition9(2), 186–203. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jarmac.2020.03.004

Nachiappan, S. (2022). Note-taking and note-making: The ever-cherished art! Indian Journal of Ophthalmology/Indian Journal of Ophthalmology70(12), 4438–4444. https://doi.org/10.4103/ijo.ijo_1780_22

National Institutes of Health (NIH). (2022, June 28). Priming the brain to learn. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/priming-brain-learn

Pan, S. C. & UCSD Psychology. (2024). How to effectively study. https://psychology.ucsd.edu/undergraduate-program/undergraduate-resources/academic-writing-resources/effective-studying/index.html

Walck-Shannon, E. M., Rowell, S. F., & Frey, R. F. (2021). To what extent do study habits relate to performance? CBE Life Sciences Education20(1), ar6. https://doi.org/10.1187/cbe.20-05-0091