Top Ten Suggestions on “How to Study Smarter, Not Harder”

By William H. Koenecke, Ph.D.

The late-night television show of David Letterman aired from 1993 to 2015. One of his regular features was his “Top Ten List” that was usually related to some current topic or person in the news. My top ten suggestions are not in any rank order of importance; it’s a brief list of some of the tips/suggestions in my second book with the working title of “Study Smarter, Not Harder: Over 77 Ways to Improve Your Study Skills in Just Minutes a Day.”

First, space out study time over several days prior to exams and/or the due dates for assignments. Limit total study time to a maximum of two to three hours a day/night. The two to three hours should be divided into approximately thirty minutes long sessions and a five-minute break should be taken between each session.

Second, practice, practice, and more practice. Musicians, athletes, and many other successful people practice their craft. One of my university organic chemistry professors studied two hours for each hour of lecture he gave to our class.

Third, do not just re-read books and notes. Learn to understand the most important concepts you will be tested on. Only re-read confusing information and/or confusing concepts. Do not study what you already know unless, you need to review the information. Only study the concepts and information you do not know.

Fourth, test yourself. Use flashcards or notecards to learn and recall key information. It’s a good idea to rewrite key concepts in your own words. (It’s better than memorizing a complex definition from the textbook.) Create your own practice tests using lecture notes, handouts, textbook, and sample tests found on the internet.

Fifth, mistakes are okay – if you learn from your mistakes! Check your incorrect answers and determine why they were wrong. Look at sample problems in your textbook and lecture notes to see why your answers were not correct. Make an appointment with your teacher/instructor during his/her office hours.

Sixth, mix up your self-testing. This is called interleaving and it’s when you drill yourself on different concepts of multiple subjects/topics to improve your learning.

Seventh, use pictures, diagrams, and graphs – especially those in your textbook and/or handouts. It’s said, “A picture is worth a thousand words!” These items can be extremely helpful to visual learners.

Eighth, Find examples of important concepts in lectures and textbooks. Compare difficult concepts that are hard to understand to concrete examples/concepts already known. Always use your own words when you write down a new concept and/or take lecture notes.

Ninth, plan and stick to it! “If you fail to make a plan, you are planning to fail!” Use a paper calendar and/or cell phone calendar to write down important dates for exams, assignments, etc.

Tenth, dig deeper! The Socratic Method of teaching is often used in medical and legal education to help students learn difficult concepts and/or principles. It involves three steps: (1) Give a definition or opinion. (2) Ask a question that raises an exception to that definition or opinion, (3) Give a better definition or opinion. Students should become the questioner and ask lots of why, when, how, etc. questions!

One “size-does-not-fit-all” is true in studying smarter and many other areas of life! Students who are happy with the study techniques they are presently employing – should not throw out the baby with the bath water! However, students may want to try out one or two new techniques to see if they can improve their grades. If the new technique doesn’t work, then stop using it and try a different technique.


William H. Koenecke is a retired university professor from Murray State, Murray, KY. Dr. Koenecke has held positions ranging from a chemistry teacher to high school and grade school principal, school superintendent, and has taught at three universities. He holds five university degrees and has 45+ years of successful experience in kindergarten-high school, and teaching college/university students through teaching graduate doctoral courses at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, IL. Koenecke is an author and a book self-publisher. He has written and published “Write Well Right Now: A Guidebook on English Grammar, Punctuation, and Writing.” His second book is titled “Study Smarter, Not Harder: Over 77 Ways to Improve Your Study Skills in Just Minutes a Day” will be published in a few months.

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