How Not to Study: The Most Common Mistakes

The worst feeling in the world: studying hours and hours for a test, only to receive a bad grade. Trust me, I know.


So frustrating!

To ensure that this doesn’t happen to you, make sure your study strategies aren’t the problem.

Don’t just read your notes

Interact with your notes in some way. Type them out in order to create a study guide, organizing the information under different themes and topics. Highlight important concepts, or terms that you can turn into flashcards. You can even color code different ideas with different highlighters. This strategy is not only useful, but also fun, especially if you are artistic.

Don’t only study last minute

You may think that the later you study, the fresher the information will be in your mind. However, this is not at all the case! Don’t procrastinate.

There’s a variety of reasons why studying over the course of a couple days will be helpful. You’ll be grateful because you’ll have less work to do each night, so you won’t be up as late, so you’ll get a good night’s sleep in the days before the test. Also, long-term studying sticks in your brain better than cramming. UC San Diego scientist Sean Kang explains that students tend to remember material better when the time in between repetitions of studying the material is longer. So you can’t just leave all the studying for the night before the test.

Study according to the test format

Ask your teacher about the format of the test and then study in a way that matches the sorts of questions that you’ll be asked. Don’t use flashcards if the test doesn’t include multiple choice or short answer questions. If you’ll be writing an essay, practice creating essay outlines.

When you actually take the test, you’ll feel more comfortable and calm because you’ll be used to the structure.

Allot your time accordingly

Spend different amounts of time on different topics. If you know a topic very well, do some quick review for a little bit, but then stop. Save your brainpower for the difficult stuff. The nights you’ll tend to stay up late will be the nights that you spent waaayyy too long on the simple stuff. Efficiency is key!

Figure out where your problem areas are and create a list of them. Make sure to leave ample time to go over all of it. When I say ample, I mean more than you think you’ll need.


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  • Nadira Berman

    As a Summer Marketing Intern, Nadira is excited to help high schoolers prepare for the SAT and ACT. As a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, she is considering studying economics. In her free time, she reports for the school newspaper and styles photo shoots for the school's fashion magazine. Besides fashion and journalism, her passions include bagels, smoothies and Netflix.

By the way, Magoosh can help you study for both the SAT and ACT exams. Click here to learn more!

2 Responses to How Not to Study: The Most Common Mistakes

  1. Sujin Cho April 30, 2015 at 4:01 pm #

    Thank you ^_^
    But with all the classes in high school (i’m still in 8th), how can I stay motivated to be organized?
    I mean, for the first week (in middle school so….with easier demand from classes) of school, i’m all like “yea I can be organized for the rest of the school year” but then…2 weeks later, my s.s. is in my math binder and I have this folder where I just stuff everything in…..
    and I won’t even get started on my locker.


    Tips to stay motivated with even more demand from classes?
    And I am promising myself to study for a test weeks before it, but how can I with all the subjects?
    I mean, I feel like my mind will be jumbled up if I study chem and then calculus (my high school offers 2 AP classes in 9th grade).
    In middle school, studying the night before was easy…but I guess it won’t be like that in high school. 🙁
    Thank you!

    • Rita Neumann
      Rita Kreig May 4, 2015 at 3:34 pm #

      Hi Sujin,

      Use free time and sleep as a motivator! The more organized you are, the more time you’ll have to rest and hang out with your friends (or binge-watch Netflix shows…) Make a real effort to keep your binders organized from the beginning, and then check in on Saturdays to make sure that everything is in the right spot. If you’re stuffing things in your locker and keeping them there for more than a week, that’s a sure sign that you need to take five minutes to clean things out, throw away what you don’t need (old snacks, irrelevant assignments), and put everything else in its proper location.

      The best way to keep up with the material in all your classes at the same time is to review a little bit every day. That way, by the time finals rolls around, you haven’t forgotten what you learned the first month of the semester. Keep a stack of relevant flashcards with you at all times, so you can study a little bit wherever you are. You’ll be so happy you did when final exams roll around, and your flashcard stack is already made.

      Good luck!!

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