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How to study smarter

January 22, 2021

With the holidays season coming to a close in most parts of the world, classes are starting up again. Whether you're starting a new school year or continuing an old one; studying for an upcoming exam or for pleasure, we all want to be able to learn more effectively. Here are some tips to help you study smarter, not just harder:

Set tangible, realistic goals

The first step to learning more effectively is to understand what you want to learn more about. Setting learning goals in both the short and long-term can be incredibly helpful for this. If you are learning independently, creating a structure with specific sub-goals and realistic metrics can help make studying a lot less daunting. But even if you're in a structured program, setting goals based on your class or program's syllabi can help you better visualize what needs to get done, and in turn take the exact actions you need to better understand the material. To write down your tangible short and long-term goals, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What skills or concepts do I want to master?
  • How much time do I have to learn this material? How much time do I want to dedicate each week to learning this?
  • What do I have to do (eg. read books, solve problems, attend lectures) to learn this material?
  • What roadblocks do I anticipate while learning this material?

Goal-setting can be quite useful in helping you understand where you are in your learning journey, and what steps you need to take to get to where you want to be at the end of the month, quarter, or semester. It also sharpens your focus on what you actually need to be doing, instead of wasting your time on activities that don't help you towards these goals.

Stay organized

It can be tempting to get stuck into studying right away and putting the little administrative tasks like organization in the back burner. Starting your year on the right foot by setting up an organizational system, however, can make a world of difference when you're looking for that specific document a few months down the line. Staying organized isn't simply a matter of storing all your materials in a file, or knowing where each week's lecture notes are — it's the act of setting up a clear system of when and how you're going to study.

Team Opal loves using tools like Notion and Google Calendar to time-block (for more on time-blocking, read our article on Personal Time-ance) and to set up an easy-to-use multimedia space for all your classes. To-do lists have also been particularly useful: we recommend writing down tomorrow's to-dos at the end of every day in a daily journal (electronic or not).

Actively learn

Studies have shown the benefits of active learning — but we may unconsciously slip back into passive learning from time to time. Some active learning tools we recommend are Quizlet and Kahoot. If you prefer auditory media, Speechify's text-to-speech can help you absorb material better.

With most learning these days done online, where distractions are abundant, it's important to maintain our focus while learning. Organization and goal-setting can only do so much if we remain distracted whilst learning. It's important to be more mindful of how you use distracting apps while studying — we recommend turning Opal on during study sessions to stay on task. For deep work sessions or cramming for a big deadline, we recommend a Focus session so you won't get distracted. For regular studying time-blocks, we recommend setting up a recurring schedule on Opal.

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