1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

What are some strategies I can use to improve academic performance ?

  1. Jan 12, 2016 #1
    There are two kinds of advice I'd like :

    On how to make a plan and how to follow it out.
    On how to actually spend the study time allotted.

    My daily schedule is something like waking up at about 4. I have till around 6 to study and then I must get ready and reach the bus stand at 6:50. College is from 8:30 to 3:30. I generally reach home at 5.30. From 6.30 to around 8.30, I can spend some more time studying and then I feel sleepy. I have resolved to spend 3 solid hours by the stopwatch every day this semester. On the bright side, I have no extra curricular activities or rapid social life to keep up with. So, I'd like to devote that time to studying what I like. I'm planning to devote 35 hours of study every week, or if not that at least 25 hours. It's difficult, but I must persevere.

    I've never had a formal plan for how to study. But this semester I'd like to chart out how I'm going to spend those 25-35 hours before they start so I'm not simultaneously tasked with spending that time and wondering how they'd fit into the big picture. Please advise me on how to plan. I'm also going to decide the books I want to read beforehand by looking at the syllabus (especially in Maths) so the same situation doesn't happen where I suddenly discover more and more books. Although I think I still will, I'd like to know the material I want to cover beforehand.

    I'd also like some strategies that help. I've read that things like underlining and highlighting don't really help know the material better. The more active the method of learning, the better it is. Can you give me strategies that would make learning more efficient ?
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2016
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 13, 2016 #2


    User Avatar

    for me personally, its not about how much time you spend on studying or revising. Its the understanding and able to explain to others what you understand or how you can use the knowledge to solve the problem at the end of the revision or study that matters. Be it 1 hour or 30 hours once you truly understand it, then use the remaining time to practice it perfectly once or twice before exam.
  4. Jan 13, 2016 #3
    First and most important of all, the amount of hours you spend studying don't mean much by themselves, the way you spend them is what really matters.

    If you find yourself distracted, and you've been at it for more than an hour, just take a break of 5 to 15 min. During your breaks splash some water on your face, go for a walk, or change study location. Avoid television, they're evil distraction machines. Anything that can burn more than 30 min of your life without you even noticing should be off limits during study time.

    Do give yourself some time to do whatever, weekends are perfect for it. With a rigid schedule like yours, your mind will become saturated very quickly.

    About how to spend the time, the main thing is: keep it simple. Understand then practice. Make sure you leave something to aid you to remember what made you understand a particular thing, so you can use it to save time when you're studying for exams.
  5. Jan 13, 2016 #4
    I suggest two things: a) experiment with different times when you study. Are you a morning or night type of person? You study early in the mornings and than you are sleepy in the afternoon. Try to reverse this schedule for couple of weeks and try sleeping longer and then studying later after school. Than compare and see what works better for you. (skip this if you have already tested the most effective time for you).

    b) as others have already said, it is definitely NOT the amount, but the quality of time you spend studying. It will be greatly beneficial if you read about learning styles and take a couple of learning style quizes (sometimes called VARK questionnaire) on the internet. Something similar is called the "multiple intelligences theory" so you can research that as well. Than you can get a general idea what could work for your brain and try a few methods that are appropriate for your special combination of learning style and type of intelligence. Experiment and see if that works.

    Read about general study tips like quiet environment, regular times, taking breaks filled with active movement, getting enough fresh air, good nutrition and enough sleep. Take a break if you are getting tired. Your brain needs breaks in order to remember what you've just learned! Sometimes it is recommended to study different subjects after each other (eg. Maths and than Spanish, not Maths and Physics), even when this may be difficult at College level.
  6. Jan 13, 2016 #5


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    This stands out for me...

    While I commend you for your dedication to your studies, not having anything else in your life is a recipe for burnout for a lot of people. So while it might seem counter-intuitive at first, my first piece of advice would be to try something new. You don't have to put a lot of hours into it, but most people benefit from doing something social now and then. And fit some exercise in too.

    As for time-management, if you can, reserve a ten minute time slot at the end of your day. This is not for studying, but for figuring out how to make tomorrow easier and more efficient. In this time you can review your assignment deadlines, review the syllabus for your lectures so that you'll know what's coming, figure out how you are going to organize resources (what textbooks will you bring to campus, for example), send emails to confirm appointments if necessary, and review your study plan for the next day. If you want to get really into it, you can extend this even more and set specific goals for the next day: read this chapter and complete the first N review exercises, spend one hour writing a lab report, etc. On some days, it might come down to spending the majority of the day on a given project.

    If you can, read ahead in your lectures. Now that you know what's coming up, because you're reviewing your syllabus on a regular basis, you might want to spend some of that moring time reviewing for what's going to come up in your lectures. That way, most of what the professor talks about will already be familair to you, and you can concentrate on the stuff that isn't making sense.

    Remember that particularly with STEM subjects, a lot of the work is problem-based. In other subject areas it's often easier to figure out how much time you need to do things, because you don't as often get stuck on something. So learn how to deal with this uncertainty. If you're struggling with something, come back to it later. And then work on a strategy to figure it out. Speak to your professors or TAs when you're stuck on something.

    Always start assignments early... like the day you get them. During that last fifteen minutes of that day, you should have a plan for how you're going to complete each new assignment. You should plan to finish well ahead of schedule. That way, when something unexpected comes up, you have room to adapt. Also that way you can talk to professors during their office hours, and avoid the last minure scamble when something is due.

    Highlighting is something that you can do if you find a little piece of information that you may want to find quickly later on. It doesn't really help you to remember or understand anything.

    The biggest tip is to work through the problems. Tackle problems beyond those that are assigned. Try the tough ones. Try to come up with your own problems. If you had to come up with an examination on the topic, what questions would you put on it? Try to figure out how the smaller things fit into the bigger picture presented in the rest of the course and yoru other courses.
  7. Jan 13, 2016 #6
    Sophia, thanks for your input. I'll check out that theory. But. I'm too tired after the long journey back through traffic after school to study for a long time.

    The reason I'm stuck on the amount is because in the invocation day of college, one of the founders of our college gave this speech. He said you have to study 40 hours in a week (he didn't really bother that it was not logistically possible), and then he told everyone the kind of job they'll land with based on the number of hours they studied. He said, if you do 30-40 hours, you'll get a Tier 1 job and have a good chance of going to graduate school, if you do 20-30, you'll get a Tier 2 job, 10-20 will give you a Tier 1 job and below that there's no point of studying. So, while I didn't take it too seriously, my parents taunt me with that whenever I get low marks like I did this semester. Even though I tried to study as much as I could, I did not manage more than 21 hours on any week and scored 13 on most weeks. (I measured with a stop watch). It was simply too tiring. The only reason I think I can do 35 hours now is that it's holidays now and I've forgotten how tiring it was. I read that we often think we have 14 extra hours when we plan for the future than we do in the present. xD

    Choppy, your ten minute idea is good. I shall try it. What is a STEM subject, though ? Thanks for your advice on assignment. It sounds good although in my system here we don't really get much assignments. All the weight is on the final external exam(100 marks) and the average of two internal tests(25 marks). Although I generally lag behind on things like lab records and homework, because I like spending all my time and energy in studying rather than doing those kinds of things. And then, I scramble in the last minute. I'll try to change that this semester.
  8. Jan 13, 2016 #7


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    • STEM = science, technology, engineering, and mathematics
    • Assignments can also mean homework problems. And if they aren't assigning you those, then you need to develop the habit of working through the exercises yourself.
    • Definitely do your best to avoid doing things last minute. This is very difficult though - particularly when you have a lot of competing demands. But one of the things Stephen Covey writes about in the "7 Habits" books is that tasks tend to move from "not urgent" towards "urgent" with time and so one of the habits is to try as much as possible to tackle whatever tasks you need to tackle before they become urgent.
  9. Jan 13, 2016 #8
    Thanks for your input.

    Can you give me some tips on how to structure and plan what exercises to cover ?
  10. Jan 14, 2016 #9
    Maths absorber, I honestly think that the professor was just trying to motivate you and he exaggerated. Obviously, you really need to study, but it is impossible to base predictions of your success on number of hours that you study.

    I also encourage you to take lab work seriously. That's what you want to do in the future, isn't it? (I may be wrong because I'm still largely confused about the US school system and still haven't understood what college is for. So I just assume that you want to become some kind of scientist working in research or practical work in a company).

    How to structure the exercises? I would first warm up doing a few exercises that are easy and than focus most of the time on things that are causing me problems. Read your notes, textbook, look up tutorials on the Internet. There are tons of how-to explanations nowadays. Solve the same type of problem until you understand it fully. Ask your classmates for help if you need to.
    Try to do as many problems as possible, but pay special attention to what professor stresses the most. Most teachers have something that they like more than other topics. So focus on what your professors are passionate about, because they are going to ask about that in the test.
    I strongly agree with the advice given to you - do the assignment as soon as possible, even when the deadline is weeks away. This way, you will be less stressed and will have more time to do better.
    It Is difficult to give you more specific directions, because each subject is different and even the amount of work you'll have to do in a day / week will vary during the semester.
    From my experience, there were days when I really felt that I want to focus only on one subject and dedicated all my time to it because I was in the right mood for it. On these days, I was very productive. On other days, I didn't want to do anything so I had to force myself to do a bit of all subjects according to priority, that means according to deadlines and impact of assignments on grades.
  11. Jan 14, 2016 #10
    Another thing I'd greatly recommend is to talk with your peers/professors about the material. Being able to discuss with others/teach others why something makes sense is the best way to make sure you understand the concept at hand. If there's a difficult concept you're dealing with, and you may be spending way too much time on it when you're studying and still struggling with the concept, talk with your professor/peers! Go to office hours and/or use any tutoring resources you have at your disposal!
  12. Jan 14, 2016 #11
    Sophia and Windy Fan, thank you for your advice.

    Paying attention to what the teacher likes won't help much because he doesn't really set the final paper. It comes from the university my college (and about 130 others) are affiliated to. However, the questions asked are pretty standard.

    I'm quite like you on the good days when I can focus on one subject and do it productively. But, on the other days I find it hard to force myself. Assignments have no official impact on grades here. However, if you score low marks in the internal tests (25 marks), the teacher can increase your internal marks with your assignment. But that's upto the teachers discretion.

    But, I was looking for tips that would make the sessions of study more productive. The time that I'm sitting in front of the book and studying. How can I ensure that I retain the knowledge for longer and understand it deeper ? What are the study techniques I can use ?
  13. Jan 14, 2016 #12
    So are there any practice tests from previous years available? Try solving them.

    Read the material in advance before the class

    Refresh your memory by reading your class notes when you get home.

    Talk to your classmates about the topic. Or just pretend that you are teacher and explain to the invisible students.

    Summarise the main point of each paragraph in just one sentence and write it down.

    Make mind maps, diagrams, small illustrations in your notes.

    Watch a YouTube video about the topic. Or read an interesting blog article about it. Google is your friend.

    Make flashcards

    Mnemonics techniques...

    If learning about physics, take some random objects like a pen, cup of water. toy car or airplane and play with them pretending to use physical laws that you are learning about (I learned about atoms using beads and buttons)

    Record your notes in mp3 and listen to them while you're travelling or before sleep.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook