OK. So obviously you navigated here because you'd like to know how to study more efficiently.
Perhaps you're in a bind. An exam date's looming and you've been goofing off, and now you have to shoehorn weeks of class material into your brain.
Or perhaps you're about to begin a new semester or school year, and you want put your best foot forward, academically speaking.
Regardless of whether the first or second possibility applies to you, one single insight applies to the issue of studying efficiently: There is no quick way. You can't easily compensate for extensive engagement with a subject for intensive - which means cramming is a poor substitute for steady, disciplined studying and time management habits.
Efficient studying begins on the first day of school. Your rule of thumb should be to break up large tasks into smaller. Think about it: From one point of view, a course of study is one massive undertaking - often sixteen weeks of reading, homework, quizzes, projects, presentations, papers and exams. But, from another point of view, a course of study is simply the sum of these activities. This means that in a sense the course - the one big job - is already broken up into smaller jobs for you.
A person with efficient study habits understands that this is case, and structures her life accordingly. Though what follows is in no sense an exhaustive treatise, it is a useful and handy resource on the habits of highly effective students. When it comes to efficient studying, always remember:
1. Place matters. Just as important as how you study is where you study. Spaces that make for efficient studying allow for you to concentrate. A quiet area in your home or dormitory can provide you with this necessary space, or you can try to find one at a nearby library. This area must not only be quiet, it must also be clean and must contain minimal distractions. A noisy, cluttered study space generally means noisy, cluttered thoughts, which obviously does little to promote efficient study; indeed, it does much to harm it. Keep this space free of any item that you think might introduce distractions into your study session. Cellphones, portable media devices, mp3 players, and the like - these you should leave turned off and out of sight. In plain sight and ready to hand, however, should be those items relevant to the course - textbook, class notes, handouts, pen, pencil, paper and computer (but only if it's absolutely essential).
2. Procrastination kills grades dead. Efficient studying amounts to devising a study schedule and sticking to it. Just as an employer schedules shifts at times appropriate to the tasks in need of completion, the efficient person does likewise. These appropriate times are those times of the day when that person thinks she can best handle studying. This means those times of the day when she is most energetic and alert. She therefore avoids putting off studying until late in the evening, and avoids studying after meals. The trick is, then, to treat studying like a job: Show up for your scheduled "shifts" regularly and you'll be rewarded with a "promotion" to the head of the class. This way you can avoid any dreaded cram sessions right before exams. Efficient study involves studying regularly throughout the semester so that "crunch time" can be reserved for reviewing material, rather than for trying to learn it.
3. A "choreographed routine" brings everything in line. Efficient study is as much a matter of the body as it is of time. Divide your study sessions into 45 to 50 minute blocs; few people can sustain concentration for much longer than that. Intersperse relaxation periods of five to 10 minutes during which you allow your brain to rest and your body to move. Always over-budget for study sessions. This will give you a buffer on those days when your study is at less than peak efficiency. Avoid studying while lying down or slouching in an armchair. Sit at a desk and try to maintain an upright posture. Avoiding becoming too comfortable during your study sessions while allow you to remain alert and focused. Any time you find yourself beginning to daydream, get up and walk around a bit before you attempt to resume studying.
4. Study session scheduling works best when you're "seeing double." You should plan to study two hours for every hour of class or lecture time scheduled for the semester. This means that a course which meets for an hour three times a week, or twice a week for an hour and a half, requires six hours of study. A full course load of 15 units thus requires about 30 hours of study outside class. You can see why efficient study requires treating school like a job - because in terms of time it is already like one!
6. "Reading" is a verb. Another essential trick to studying efficiently is to read actively. Consider your textbook as something more than an entertainment vehicle (You're sure to be disappointed if you do). Consider it an information delivery system. It's up to you, then, to discover this information and migrate it to your brain. This means you must be methodical in your reading. It helps to remember that every paragraph contains a single idea. Make it your goal to find this idea. Write it down in the margin or in your notes if you need to. And always ask questions of yourself as you read. Ask yourself if you understood a paragraph you just read. Also ask yourself questions about the larger purpose of the textbook. Consider what it is that the author is trying to communicate.
7. Make connections. Efficient study doesn't have to be a solo act. Indeed, as with many other efforts, there is strength in numbers. Get acquainted with other students in your course with the purpose of forming study groups. Understanding can often be achieved through mulling over ideas in conversation. Make sure, though, that you continue study sessions only with people capable of remaining on task. Nothing crimps efficient studying like mere socializing. If this happens, you're better off seeking insight from your instructor, who generally keeps office hours during which she makes herself available to students. Conversations with your instructor can also promote understanding in a bit way. In fact, you'll likely find your efficient studying greatly enhanced as a result of making regular contact with your instructors.
As this article makes clear, there is no secret formula for efficient studying. Rather, efficient studying comes down to observing a few simple principles and then strictly adhering to the practices you've derived from them. Whether your scholarly interests lie in engineering or criminal justice, you'll discover that the race goes not always to the swiftest. In other words, perspiration trumps inspiration when it comes to studying efficiently and making the grade.