8 ‘secret weapon tips’ to make studying a breeze

Clever ways you may not have heard of to minimise the angst for high school students.

8 ‘secret weapon tips’ to make studying a breeze
Dr Selina Samuels Education expert BA(Hons), LLB, PhD, MEd Monday, 5 June 2023

Ask anyone young or old what they think about homework and you probably won’t get many positive responses. Generally, what springs to mind is that homework can be ‘time consuming, stressful and boring’.
However, Dr Selina Samuels from online tutoring company Cluey Learning says there are some clever ways you may not have heard of to minimise the angst for high school students. In particular, methods such as Dr Samuel’s’ ‘Café test’ and the ‘90 + 20 minute rule’ can really make a difference to studying, planning and revising.
“You can type ‘tips and tricks for effective learning’ into ChatGPT and receive a list of well-worn pieces of advice which everyone, including me, has probably been guilty of providing at some time or other,” Dr Samuels says. “However, there are actually a lot of effective study methods which students may not have encountered before. These are my ‘secret weapons’.
“With many high schools conducting exams across Term 2, I’ve collated some top studying tips here, gathered from my own experience as a student and as a teacher of very successful students.”

1. See everything as a draft
One of the greatest threats to getting your assignments in on time (and to actually learning the content that you are writing about) is fear of being wrong. Perfectionism is often seen as a good quality, but it can get in the way of productivity and make you feel overwhelmed and anxious. However, if you treat all your work as a draft until the moment you press “send”, you’ll neutralise that perfectionist voice in your head and free yourself to be creative and make mistakes. Mistakes – and the feedback you get about them – are what really help you to learn.

2. Overcome blank screen fear with the one paragraph trick
One tip I always share with my senior students is not to delay starting an essay or other piece of writing at the very end of the evening, even if you only write one paragraph. Then, when you tackle it the next day, you’ve already started and it’s easier to continue. It’s a great way to get past the fear of the blank page. Rather like treating everything as a draft, I always say, “It doesn’t matter what I write, I’ll rewrite it tomorrow; just get something down.”

3. Stick to the 90 + 20-minute rule
The brain is highly plastic (able to learn and change) before the age of 25. But there are nonetheless ways to make learning easier. Neuroscientist Dr Andrew Huberman maintains that the most effective time period in which to learn a new concept is 90 minutes. During this time, the learner goes from feeling uncertain, possibly confused, to feeling engaged and capable. They’ll then start to lose focus and concentration towards the end. The friction and uneasiness of the beginning are key to learning – if you find it difficult, that means you’re learning! – so, ride that out. To consolidate what’s been learned, follow up with 20 minutes of relaxation.

4. De-stress
On that note, try either meditation or yoga nidra which involve resting without napping. Studies show these periods of almost-sleep increase brain plasticity considerably. I strongly recommend students organise exam revision into 90 minutes slots of learning followed by 20 minutes of rest to maximise their time.

5. Walk to embed concepts
Studies show that walking is a great way to consolidate learning, improve memory and cognitive functions. Not only is walking good for some exercise and fresh air, it also improves your mood. The rhythmic effect of walking can help you process your thoughts and be more creative. Whilst walking, students shouldn’t listen to music or make calls. Instead, they should spend it explaining to themselves (audibly if necessary) key concepts they’ve been revising. The walking rhythm (as well as the benefits of recall) helps to embed these concepts. They might get a reputation in the neighbourhood for being a little bonkers, but that’s a small price to pay for nailing final exams!

6. Develop connections with the “café test”
When I was teaching literature at the University of London covering a different text by a different authors each week, we’d spend the last few minutes of each tutorial group doing the “café test”. Here we’d imagine each new writer joining others in the café and discuss how much they’d have in common and where they’d disagree. This was a fun way to build a mental map of the relationships between the contexts and attitudes of the writers, and to make sure that none were forgotten as we proceeded to the next texts. The café test is one way of seeing connections between what might otherwise feel like a series of disparate facts. It is easier to remember things in relation to one another, and you can build a mental map that can help in exams.

7. Get enough sleep
Yes, I know this is hardly a big secret, but I can’t emphasise enough how important sleep is to learning! Plenty of research shows that sleep is essential to consolidate and embed new skills and knowledge. Too often, young people don’t get enough sleep to embed all their carefully designed study sessions. It is while you are asleep that you properly embed what you have been learning.

8. Study with someone
Of course, you shouldn’t feel all alone with studying and revising. Study groups and tutoring with an experienced educator have an extremely high impact on student outcomes and feelings of confidence and well-being.

So, if you know someone who’s feeling a bit out of their depth with homework, remember that there really are some secret tips and tricks, and extra help is always available.

Cluey Newsletter

Our expert tips. Your inbox.

Follow us on Facebook