How to Study Smart, Not Hard

Updated on May 30, 2018
Priya Barua profile image

Pursuing a rather tedious subject called law, Priya Barua still tries to find time to follow her passion for blogging.

I've come across many questions on various Internet forums asking how to boost or increase your grades by studying less. In response, I've provided links to various posts I have written on the subject, but most people tend to overlook the related links and, instead, receive some half-baked information on the various ways to study.

In today’s post, I've combined all the topics that are relevant for you to properly understand the concept of smart studying.

How to Top Your Class

1. Listen to Your Teacher

As a self-proclaimed lazy student, I don’t believe in either homework or listening to lectures. In fact, 75 percent of the time, I simply pretend to listen to the teacher when in reality my mind is somewhere else.

However, what I make sure to always do is keep one ear half open. With that half-open ear, I register snippets of information. When a teacher stresses a particular paragraph, or makes us mark or underline particular content, I make sure to do it. Over the years, I have learned that whenever a teacher stresses particular content, the chances are very high that it is going to appear on the term paper.

2. Write Down Revision Questions

I am not asking you to do the revision in class because I know that you haven’t studied for it. I have never studied for a revision, and I don’t think I ever will. But do make an effort to precisely note all the questions. The revision questions have the highest chance of appearing on your question paper.

3. Make Your Own Notes

The problem most students run into when trying to cut corners is copying their friend's notes. This never works. Those are your friend’s notes, and they make sense to him or her, not to you.

I know that you are lazy, and making your own notes is the last thing that you want to do. Instead, look at the schedule and a week or so before it. Then, settle down to make your notes. Make sure they are knock-out notations covering the proper material, and that you are using proper grammar.

If you have a problem taking notes or with your sentence formation and language, you can try a method which I call ... copying. Not the best name, I admit. To do this, read and re-read the material, pick out the best lines, and write them down concisely, one after the other. All you have to do is select the lines that tackle your question, and present them in a logical sequence with small changes here and there.

4. Analyse Which Questions Are Most Important

This is one of the main steps in order to score well on your exams. You need to take a few minutes to analyse what sort of questions your teacher will include on the test. One way to do this is to skim through the revision questions. Those questions give a general idea of the topics that you need to know. From those questions, branch out to another set of questions related to those topics.

Another way to do this is to understand mark distribution. Ask your teacher for a blueprint of the question paper. This will allow you to know how many questions there will be for one, two, four or six marks, and whether or not you will have options. Try predicting higher mark questions. There are so many questions that can come for six marks, so learn all of them, and chances are that you’ll get lucky. This method has always been very useful to me.

5. Ask for Help

There will be times when you don’t understand things. In that case, never hesitate to approach your teachers. They are there to help you. If a teacher turns you down, then go to the brightest student in the class and ask for his or her help. It is a good idea to always make friends with the naturally bright students.

Preparing for the exam
Preparing for the exam | Source

How to Study for an Exam

Studying for an exam can be very, very taxing. It creates a lot of tension and anxiety, and usually results in many late nights and cups of coffee.

But is this the only viable way to study for an exam? The answer is no. There are actually plenty of strategies to tackle exams. I have listed only those methods which have helped me. None of them includes late nights or copious amounts of coffee.

1. Get Some Sleep

Sleep is very crucial when it comes to performing well in school. Yes, it is possible to go on studying without sleep and pull off a late- or all-nighter, but the truth is that you won’t remember much. In fact, I doubt people who practise these bad study habits remember anything at all. I would recommend sleeping for nine hours a day, although many specialists claim that eight to seven are sufficient.

2. Take Breaks in Between Study Time

When I say take a break, I don’t mean sitting in front of the TV or computer for an hour. The best way, as many people suggest, is to take short breaks, say 10 minutes after 50 minutes of studying. But between you and me, I have ever been able to take a 10 minute break. I will mostly study for 90 minutes in a stretch, then take a break for nearly an hour. Is that useful? No, not really. I wouldn’t recommend it. But if you are as insincere as I am, then let me help you out with this one. When you do take an hour for a break, make sure you don’t sit down in front of the TV or computer, because it will make you forget everything you have learned. Instead, listen to music, talk to your friends over phone, go for a walk, read a book, squeeze in a bit of exercise or just lie down for a while. Everything works better than watching TV or going online.

3. Stick to Your Schedule

If your like me and have trouble sticking to well-constructed schedules, then don’t make a well-constructed schedule which you know you will not follow.

Instead, take out a calendar and write down the subjects you need to study next to a date. Write these down for an entire week, and follow it. This allows you to have some flexibility while studying. A week from now, you probably don’t know what you will be doing. Now, you know that you want to study the landscape of Europe on Thursday night.

4. Be Physically Active

One very important piece of advice I would suggest is to remain physically active when you’re not studying. While studying, all you do is sit and work your brain muscles. Physical exercise is also important to make sure those brain muscles work efficiently. So, take a walk every morning, hit the gym or just do some simple stretching exercises at home – the idea is to be active.

5. Organize Your Notes

As a student, I tend to haphazardly take notes on loose sheets of paper and keep them all together. Recently, I started to keep separate stick files for each subject, and make a partition after each chapter. This ensures that my material will be organized when exams come.

So, always make sure to keep your notes organized in whichever way suits you.

Do you have the habit of taking breaks while studying?

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Do you know how to write your paper?
Do you know how to write your paper? | Source

How to Write an Exam Paper

You might think you know how to write an exam paper, but, trust me on this one, you don’t.

1. Good Handwriting

A paper is usually judged by how neat and legible the handwriting is. A lot can be said about a person by simply looking at his or her handwriting. When the teacher has a bundle of sheets to grade, the last thing he or she wants to do is work extra hard to read what the student has written.

The key is to have really neat handwriting. If you can’t help scrawling on the paper, just leave good amount of spaces between your scrawlings. In most cases, marks are not given for good handwriting, but writing neatly always has an added advantage. The teacher tends to skim through the answer rather than read it word-by-word, causing incorrect grammar or bad sentence formation to be easily overlooked.

2. Repeat the Question

There are sometimes one-sentence word questions which are simply asking you give the correct answer. Sometimes, what we as students do is repeat the entire question before coming to the answer. For instance, if the question is, "Who is the Queen of England?" the answer that some students give is "The Queen of England is Elizabeth II." The first four words seem a bit redundant in this case.

Imagine if the teacher had to read that same sentence over 30 times. They'd go mad. Plus, you lose time in writing those extra four words.

If your teacher does insist on complete sentences, then make sure that you underline the answer. In this case, the teacher can simply jump to the answer without reading the entire line. Trying to make your answer more teacher-friendly is the key to scoring better marks.

An example would look something like this:

  • The Queen of England is Elizabeth II

3. Write-In Points

Whenever possible, write the answer in bullet points. (Never do this in an English paper, though. In an English paper, you are judged by how you express your answer.)

Concisely presenting your answer in bullet points is never a bad idea, and makes the answer clearer for your teacher. For a six or eight mark answer, it is always better to have a heading before explaining your point. That is why, when you do make notes, always jot down the points. This will also help you recall them later.

4. Provide an Introduction and Conclusion

Without an introduction and a conclusion, your answer is incomplete. You need to introduce and conclude your answer intelligently.

For instance, if the question is:

  • Write down the factors which lead to global warming.

Then the introduction should never be:

  • The factors which lead to global warming are ...

This is a case of repeating the question, which is never a good idea in an exam paper. The key to writing a proper introduction is to give a description of the answer that you are going to present. For the above mentioned question, the introduction can be the answer to the question:

  • What is global warming?

The factors which lead to global warming can be a conclusion, but a single, well-stated preventive measure would be a better conclusion.

Note: Only write an introduction and conclusion if the answer is for a higher mark. Otherwise you will lose time unnecessarily.

5. Give Dates and Timelines Whenever Needed

Many students refrain from giving dates or timelines for fear of getting them wrong. If you are not sure, then it is better to avoid giving them. But if you are sure about them, then don’t hesitate. Providing dates and timelines is an important aspect of any knock-out answer.

Do you write your answers in points?

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What to Do One Day Before an Exam

I am going to go ahead and assume that, by now, you are done with your notes, have read the chapter at least twice, have memorized what needs to be memorized, and have studied just about everything that needs to be studied.

So now you are sitting in front of your laptop, getting anxious and wondering "What Now?" Don’t let the stress get the best of you.

These are the steps you need to follow before sitting for the exam tomorrow.

1. Solve a Complete Test Paper

Collected a couple of sample papers. Go through them and orally answer the questions to an imaginary audience. Does this seem weird? Perhaps it is. But somehow, recalling my answers in front of my teddy bear has always been helpful. It feels like there is a real person whom you need to impress. In this way, I also refrain from stuttering.

2. Identify Important Topics

Now you may think that perhaps the entire book is important. In many ways, it is. But mostly there are a couple of questions that are repeated every year.

Finding the important topics should be done before the exam, when you are reading the chapter.

3. Revise Your Notes Thoroughly

Now is the time to revise your notes. When I say notes, I don’t mean the stuff that teachers make you write in class. I mean the notes that you have made on your own. The best part about making your own notes is that you will remember at least 50 percent of what you have written. And when you are revising it, you will automatically start recalling the chapter.

4. Recall Every Important Definition

There are certain definitions which you can’t, even if you try, recreate in your own words. So it becomes imperative that you learn them by heart, word-for-word. If you have trouble remembering them, use a method which I haven’t yet given a name to: breaking the definition into parts. It is similar to the way you learn spelling in your kindergarten years.

This is a definition I have selected from my psychology book:

Assessment refers to the measurement of psychological attributes and their evaluations, often using multiple methods in terms of certain standards of comparison.

Here’s what you do.

  1. Assessment refers to (what?)
  2. Measurement of psychological attributes (and?)
  3. Their evaluations (how?)
  4. By using multiple methods in terms of standards of comparison.

This makes the whole answer easier to remember. Let’s do the exercise again.

Intelligence refers to the global and aggregate capacity of an individual to think rationally, act purposefully and to deal effectively with her/his environment.

Here's what you do.

  1. Intelligence refers to (what?)
  2. Global and aggregate capacity (of what?)
  3. Of an individual (to what?)


  • Think rationally
  • Act purposefully
  • Deal effectively with environment

Hopefully this method will help you as much as it has helped me.

5. Wrap Up by 9 PM

I have heard that many students have the habit of studying until three in the morning. Then, after sleeping for barely two or three hours, they come to school and take their exam.

I, on the other hand, always wrap up everything by 9 p.m. And guess what? I always manage to do better.

While this studying-till-3-in-the-morning method works for some, I wouldn’t particularly encourage it. Your brain needs to be refreshed in order to effectively tackle all the questions. You should also notice that these students are the most anxious in the morning, and will badger you with question like "Have you done this? Have you completed that? I will fail!" Many also seem to think that because I remain so cool, I have studied everything. This is not true. Whether or not I have touched all the topics, I never study beyond 9 p.m. I get a peaceful eight hours of sleep, and I'm ready to appear for the test.

Questions & Answers

    © 2016 Priya Barua


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      • profile image

        Riya Singh 

        19 months ago

        Thank you so much for the article Priya mam..I am going to start my 9th class this year and I am so nervous and scared after having a watch on the books and course.I badly needed some guidance though online although i get that from my parents as well....You really encouraged me so far though this..I really appreciate! Tysm

      • Priya Barua profile imageAUTHOR

        Priya Barua 

        22 months ago

        Thanks @nousheenshafia. Hope this helps you as much as it helped me


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