How to Study Smart, Not Hard

Updated on May 13, 2019
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.

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. I usually use plain, white notebooks, from Amazon, like the one above but you can purchase them in any stationary shop. I buy them in bulk because it's cheaper, I know I'll be needing them throughout the semester and I'm too lazy to walk over to the department store.

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.

As a student, I tend to haphazardly take notes on loose sheets of paper and keep them all together. Recently, I have started to keep separate clear folders for each subject to ensure that all the study material for a particular subject are in one place.

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.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

  • How to not get distracted when I'm trying to study?

    Don't check your phone, don't multi-task. You can try a little bit of mindfulness meditation before you start studying.

  • How can I manage my time?

    Planning is the key. Plan your day or week, whatever you're comfortable with. Dedicate a certain number of hours to each subject and you'll do just fine.

  • I am overwhelmed by my class syllabus. How can I make time to stay motivated and study?

    What you seem to be lacking is a plan. You need to schedule study sessions from the beginning of the semester, attend classes, take notes and revise regularly. It all sounds simple until you bring in motivation. Most of us lack the motivation to do it. Here, I am going to digress and give you some self-help tips. Why are you studying? To get into a good college, to get a good job, to go for further studies? You need to keep all of that in mind when you're studying. How are good grades going to help you? Motivation is fickle. You need resolve. Once you figure it out, the rest of it will be easy.

  • I need to study 25 chapters of mathematics in 2 months. How should I prepare?

    That is a lot to cover under two months, especially, if they are new topics. But I'm certain it's possible. It's Maths and all you need is to grasp the concept. I would recommend hiring a tutor or forming a study group and aside from that, practice regularly; every day. I can't even comprehend how 25 chapters were covered in a school semester. Nevertheless, plan your two months well ahead and just dive into it. Best of luck.

  • How can I become a class 12 topper from CBSE board?

    I am a CBSE graduate. These tips helped me throughout school life. But no, I didn't become a topper but I got a fairly decent percentage and ended up in an NLU college. To become a topper in CBSE, I believe you need an element of luck - that you get the easier set, that you get good teachers correcting your papers, that your school teachers grade you well in internals. There are a lot of factors invovled. Perhaps, I'm not the best person answering this question. You should reach out to toppers to help you with it.

© 2016 Priya Barua


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    • Priya Barua profile imageAUTHOR

      Priya Barua 

      6 weeks ago

      Thanks for your comments @Oscar and @Peter.

    • profile image

      peter antwi 

      7 weeks ago

      thanks for giving me tips to learn to pass me exams

    • profile image

      Oscar Reen 

      2 months ago

      Thank u Priya

    • Priya Barua profile imageAUTHOR

      Priya Barua 

      2 months ago

      @Pat, great to know you've found this useful.

    • profile image

      Pat Crew 

      2 months ago

      Thank you Priya ,this is informative

    • Priya Barua profile imageAUTHOR

      Priya Barua 

      2 months ago

      Thanks for all the comments, guys! I'm glad you're finding this useful.

      @Gram, it's really subjective and depends on you. I know people who can work for three hours straight although I prefer to study for an hour and a half, take a break and then proceed for another session of an hour and a half.

      @Tadiwa, that is ideal - to study in the waking hours and sleep at night. But, again, you should follow what you're comfortable with.

    • profile image

      Lance Denny 

      2 months ago

      Informative thank you

    • profile image

      Renee Sibs 

      2 months ago

      Wow thanks Priya dear,l like this!!

    • profile image


      2 months ago

      Hey Priya .what do u have to say about studying during the day and then sleep all night without waking up to study?is it ok?

    • profile image


      2 months ago

      What is the longest time that one can study without any break

    • profile image

      Gracious Tan 

      2 months ago

      Great article thanks

    • profile image

      George Tee 

      2 months ago

      Informative,much thanks

    • profile image

      Rudo Nash 

      2 months ago

      Thank u Priya.keep writing more informative blogs like this!!!

    • Priya Barua profile imageAUTHOR

      Priya Barua 

      3 months ago

      @ Jeff Saam; it's great if your teacher provides you handouts. If that's the case, I don't think you need to make notes at all. Just learn your notes inside out and you'll be fine.

    • profile image

      April Sunshine 

      3 months ago

      Great article, very informative thank you very much☺️

    • profile image

      Myrick Moz 

      3 months ago

      I have exams coming in September and l don't even know where to start.l hope this will help me

    • profile image

      Ray Taddy 

      3 months ago

      Thank you so much for this!!

    • profile image

      Queen Pee 

      3 months ago

      does starting at night have better results than studying during the day?

    • profile image

      Jeff Saam 

      3 months ago

      So you mean l should aswell write my own notes even when the teacher provides printed handouts notes?

    • profile image

      Giannah F 

      3 months ago

      Interesting!!thank you Priya

    • Priya Barua profile imageAUTHOR

      Priya Barua 

      3 months ago

      @Fungai. That is agreeable with some people. But I personally try to sleep six hours at a stretch. You need to have a refreshed mind to concentrate better and retain information.

    • profile image


      3 months ago

      is it recommended to do those night studies whereby i wake up in the middle of the night?

    • profile image


      3 months ago

      Very informative,thank you so much

    • profile image


      4 months ago

      Aim higher

    • Priya Barua profile imageAUTHOR

      Priya Barua 

      5 months ago

      Thanks @Ash. Hope it helps you!!

    • profile image


      5 months ago

      This article is truly incredible...

      .Thnx Priya ma'am. For such unique and helpful advises.

    • Priya Barua profile imageAUTHOR

      Priya Barua 

      5 months ago

      @Mirza: You're panicking. From what I can understand, you need a plan. Sit down and think about what you need to study, allocate a number of hours for each subject and/or topic. Three chapters aren't as much as you think. You can do it. Good luck

    • Priya Barua profile imageAUTHOR

      Priya Barua 

      5 months ago

      @Hala Khan; thanks a lot for commenting!

    • profile image

      Hala khan 

      8 months ago

      Great article

    • profile image


      9 months ago

      I am really confused what to study with my semester exams related to the syllabus I always get stuck here it is alot how I am gonna study this many subjects keeping in mind that each subject has three chapters and there syllabus makes me demotivated can you help me out how to cope up with this issue

    • Priya Barua profile imageAUTHOR

      Priya Barua 

      11 months ago

      Thanks, guys. I'm really ecstatic that the article is helping you out.

    • profile image


      11 months ago

      Wow. Just what I was looking for. :)

      I'm a law student as well and find it really hard to keep track with everything. These tips are surely gonna help me.

      Thanks alot. ♥️

    • profile image

      Heleena Reese 

      12 months ago

      i know studying to be on top is a real hard work for a student, because of other priorities that are on their way too but think of focusing on one subject matter at a time, make some notes and a get a planner to plan your next move very well. i know this might sound a bit odd, but me when i was in my first year in college i considered taking a mental health supplement. My professor always mentioned that a phenibut will be a good supplement for students, i tried taking the supplement for 1 week until i found myself become focus and better, i sleep asound and my cognitive function was really better! i usually get mine at raw powders as they sell a cheaper yet i can say very effective product. you may want to consider it too!

    • profile image

      Riya Singh 

      2 years 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 

      2 years ago

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

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Its really a great article for us. Thanks for guidance. Its really going to help us. Keep providing sir.


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