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HACKS to study smart, not hard

Updated: Jul 28, 2022

A few years ago, I scored:

3 straight A* s for my Cambridge A levels.

2 A s for my Cambridge AS levels.

3 A* s and 3 A s for my Cambridge O levels.

Last year, I graduated top of my college.

No, I wasn't studying 15 hours a day. I didn't quit sacrificing my social life. I wasn't cramming in my revision for weeks before the exams. Let me tell you, it was actually a relatively smooth and stress-free process.

study smart not hard

⚠️Pitfall alert⚠️

Many students have experienced a situation when they were studying for perhaps 11, 12, or 13 hours a day, but still weren't achieving the grades they were hoping for. Studying long hours does not always translate into exceptional grades.

If you are in this situation keep reading. This article will cover the exact actions I took to improve my ability to study strategically and effectively. This helped me to absorb, process and retain more information in a shorter length of time!

study smart

Step 1: Spread out your studying

If your exams or just your education in general is stressing you out then this is for you.

⚠️Pitfall alert⚠️

Most students commit low hours of studying in the beginning of the semester, however as their exams get closer they will drastically increase the number of hours they study.

Before the exam, the studying hours will suddenly increase even more. The pressure from the exams motivates them to start cramming in preparation.

Is that how you study? Actually, it's how most students study. But it's just not studying smart. It's in reality, quite a stressful way of approaching your exams.


Here's a more effective study strategy: decide how many hours you'll spend studying each day before the beginning of the semester. Set a goal. That really is up to you; it may be six hours, eight hours, or 10 hours. Make sure that whatever you choose, you can maintain it throughout the whole semester.

Let's say that you choose to commit 8 hours to study, every weekday, throughout the semester.

At the beginning of the semester.

Try to:

1# Make a background reading of your textbook.

2# Go through past papers to get an idea of what you are going to be learning.

3# Maybe watch documentaries and youtube videos about the new topics.

As you progress through the semester.

Here's what's going to happen. Your eight hours of studying stays the same where most other students have to increase the number of hours they study. They need to catch up.

Just before the exams.

To get ready, you don't need to put in more studying time, compared to your friends. You will have less stress during the exam preparation process because you have begun your preparation well in advance. There's no panicking or rushing to cram your studying days before the exam

In summary, you should spread out your studying throughout the entire semester as opposed cramming it all in a short period of time before the exam.

⚠️Pitfall alert⚠️

There is one significant error that many students make when doing this. They space out their studying more, which is great! But because there's no pressure from deadlines or exams, they begin pseudo-studying. Pseudo studying is when you just sit there with your laptop and your textbook and you are studying, but you're not really taking in the information!

Step 2: Focus on the important materials

You'll probably find that the majority of the marks you get in an exam are coming from a select few things rather than covering the whole textbook.

Practising past papers is crucial to achieving excellent scores. So prioritized past papers!

Other tasks such as reading for background information in a textbook don't always correlate to getting top marks. Therefore, try to devote much less time to reading thick textbooks.

Furthermore, answering excessively many practice problems won't always help you. Simply focus on the most frequently asked questions.

Step 3: Stop reading your notes passively

⚠️Pitfall alert⚠️

Many students make this mistake all the time. They have been studying all day, every day, but when the time comes for the exams, their results don't reflect the amount of studying they have done. One reason for that is because a lot of students make the mistake of simply reading and re-reading texts or notes.


It's absolutely crucial that you're not just reading the text or notes passively, but you're actively engaging in the material.

Active engagement is the process of constructing meaning from the material so that involves making connections to lectures, forming examples, and asking and answering questions.

Active learning does not always mean underlining or highlighting material, repeat readings, or rote memorizing. This is basically just repeating the text over and over in your head.

Some ideas for active studying include creating a Q & A. This involves writing out questions as you read and then once you've finished reading, writing out answers with the questions. Additionally, you may make your own quiz and share it to your friends.

Another strategy is to "become a teacher." Say the information out loud in your own words as if you're teaching the concepts to a class. As an alternative, you might 'teach' your family members or even your friends.

Step 4: Create concept maps and diagrams

Mind maps are a great way of processing the information and actively engaging the brain to help with memory retention and active recall.

Another technique is where

1# you read a page from a textbook

2# you close the textbook

3# you write down everything that you remember from that page

4# go back and open the textbook to see what information you missed

Step 5: Avoid multitasking

⚠️Pitfall alert⚠️

Multitasking is when you're performing more than one task at the same time. This doesn't improve efficiency.

You might be:

  • studying two subjects at the same time

  • studying and browsing Tiktok

  • studying and chatting to friends on Facebook


You must try eliminating all possible distractions.

Use apps such as the 'focus to do' app to help keep you focused and prevent you from getting distracted. Apps like these can also lock your phone so that it eliminates the temptation you might get from getting distracted from things like notifications.


Getting into the zone of studying is incredibly important. A student that studies for eight hours and is super focused and engaged, will obviously process and retain significantly more information, than a student that also studies for eight hours but is procrastinating and distracted.



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