How to Study Smarter, Not Harder

All those textbook notes and study guides won’t help you ace your exams if you’re not in the right mindset for deep learning. Here’s what you need to know to prime your brain & study smarter, not harder.


Language as a reflection of your beliefs

The use of words like “I’ll try” or “I just want to pass” illustrates not only the lack of confidence in your knowledge but also your belief that failure is an option. Once you planted that seed in your thoughts, fear starts to flourish and can lead to anxiety, procrastination and self-sabotage. Your words create your reality, so make sure that you chose them wisely. When you are studying for your exams, you need to use positive self-talk to make it crystal clear that success is the only option you have. When I take tests, I don’t even consider the possibility of flunking them – I just think of it in terms of shades of success (in other words, a grade of 85% or 95%). What this does is it shifts your focus from “what can I do to pass” to “what can I do to score high.”


Exams are your time to show off

Most students see midterms and finals as proof of their shortcomings, of how little they know. Think about it, when you get out of that exam room, what do you talk about with your friends: the questions you didn’t know the answers to or the ones you demolished? This behavior can strenghten the perception of being pointed at or feeling guilty about what you didn’t know.

Adopting the right mindset for success will allow you to study smarter, not harder and emerge victorious. Think of yourself as an athlete training for the Olympics. Exams are your opportunity to show off and shine in the spotlight. Instead of focusing on the 2-3 questions you were unsure of, why not be proud of the 35 others that you got right?


Learn with the intent to teach

When approaching the material you have to study, try to have a goal in mind other than I have to pass this exam. I know it’s easier said than done but it makes a world of a difference when it comes to retention and performance. My goal when studying for any test has always been to understand it to a point where I can teach it to you guys. Studying with the intent of teaching the material is also known as the Feynman Technique and it’s been proven to work wonders for students of all ages.


Finding your reason

You’ve probably heard this already but finding your why, your reason for learning what you have in front of you does is what helps you study smarter, not harder. When your see the value and the long list of benefits that come from understanding the material, you will be more efficient with your time. In other words, top off those hardcore textbooks with a sprinkle of purpose. Two ways you can do this – internships and/or volunteering. Engaging the material and making it hit closer to home truly makes a difference.


Freeing up mental space to improve concentration

When you look at exams as a source of fear, insecurity and frustration, your mind translates those emotions to THREAT. This inevitably triggers the flight or fight response and depending on which side you pick, it can lead to procrastination, giving in to distractions or self-sabotaging your own success.

What I want you to realize is that trying hard to find ways to avoid studying altogether is also a taxing activity for the mind. Stress hurts the brain, body and soul. If you want to study the smart way, you will inevitably have to target those cortisol levels and bring them down. The right mindset is a calm, decluttered mindset that can be achieved with things like physical exercise, journaling or meditation.

Freeing up your mental space from worry and unnecessary noise will allow you to focus better and enter the study bubble.


In the end, you’re doing it for yourself

I’m hoping that this next statement will give you a loving reality check: in the end, you’re doing it for yourself. You are not studying for other people (even if you think you are). You are studying to better your life, to increase your knowledge, your happiness, your purpose and sense of fulfillment. Now I don’t know about you, but I think you’re worth it.