College of Veterinary Medicine

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Study Smarter, Not Necessarily Harder!

Tricks for Maximizing Your Learning Efficiency

You all struggle to have a life while doing well in school. These tips help you to maximize your learning time so that you can also have time for other important activities in your life. REMEMBER! It's a fact that once information is in long term memory, it stays in long term memory. The trick is to get it into long term memory, and then retrieve that information when you need it. All the strategies listed either directly or indirectly enhance your ability to get information into long term memory storage. Start small in improving your learning efficiency by trying one or two of these study tips and see if you notice a change in how well you learn

Review within 24 hours
This is perhaps the single most important thing you can do to improve your learning. Studies have shown that you remember only 50% of what you read within 1 hour after you read it. (It's almost as bad when you hear it!) Reviewing the information right away increases that retention significantly, imprinting it in long term memory for better recall. Regular, spaced reviews (e.g. weekly & monthly) mean that there's not so much to relearn (cram) before a test. The information is already firmly implanted in your memory.

Use strategies that synthesize the information you take in
Your brain muscle is like your body muscles..."use it or lose it". You need to find ways to translate the information you hear. That means, use strategies like filling in category charts or tables, drawing diagrams, applying labels, or making flow charts, minds maps, and flash cards to "digest" the information. Our minds go numb when we just intake information in the same form over and over.

Have a designated place for studying and keep it organized
Studying in one place helps to condition your mind to be ready to learn. There's less fussing around, less distraction, less procrastination, and you get "down to business" quicker. Having an organized workspace also helps you more efficiently and quickly start studying.

Find and develop your "structured" self
Even you "free spirit" types out there can become more structured and organized. Without at least a loose structure to our days, it is too easy to say, "Oh, I'll get to that later"...and then never get to it. Don't make it a regular habit to make studying optional depending on how you feel. (Remember the MBTI have many rooms in your house (personality) just prefer some over others. That means you're capable of operating in other personality modes; it's just not as comfortable.) You can learn to be more comfortable being structured, and you will find it has many rewards, not the least of which is better grades and more quality time to do what you want.

Improve your attention during class (like using the synthesis strategies listed elsewhere)
After all, class time is set aside specifically for that learning. Using it for anything else is probably wasting it. If you don't use class time to start to learn the material, you'll have to make up that time during other parts of your day, week, or semester...cutting into your "free" time. If at all possible, save the sudokus, crosswords, text messages, and e-mails for another time (you know who you are!)

Learn about your "Learning Style"
(There are several learning style assessment tools available online.) Then use your own favorite learning style(s) whenever possible, but use other learning style strategies to reinforce the information and make it more readily retrievable.

Test yourself on the information while learning it.
This is an important function of a study group. You may think you've learned the material, but when you're asked a question about it, you may find that you don't know it as well as you thought. (I bet many of you have unfortunately discovered this truth while taking an exam.) This happens particularly with people who go over information in the same way every time. After a while, the process becomes so automatic that no strengthening of the neuropathway happens. It's what is meant by "in one ear and out the other". Nothing new registers.

If possible, skim new information ahead of time, noting important words, pictures, definitions, and bold type
Skimming gives you kind of a "skeleton" framework to hang new information on. It helps with the "synthesis" that is required for long- term memory storage. When time is short however, and you have to make a choice between reviewing what's been covered and skimming for what's coming, probably reviewing should be your first choice for using your time.

Determine how you study best
Are you someone who can be efficient in short bursts and then need a short break? Or are you someone can study efficiently for a few hours at a time? Is your best learning time in the morning? Or are you a "night owl" who thinks and learns best in the evening? Plan your day so that your use of time maximizes the style that works best for you.

Deal with distractions
Make a "to do" list of your distractions, prioritize them, and get to them during your study break or at another time that you have set aside to deal with "tasks of daily living". Practice letting those things go until a designated time.

Unless you're REALLY SPECIAL, you probably need to study one hour outside of class for every hour in class. How do your study hours stack up?

by Carolyn Wyatt, Ph.D., Psychologist, WSU College of Veterinary Medicine, 2009

Need Additional Help?

Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine Counseling and Wellness Services offer free individual counseling for these and related issues for veterinary students (WSU Veterinary Students ONLY). For more information or to schedule an appointment call or e-mail:

Anne LaFrance, MA, Licensed Mental Health Counselor
(509) 335-4607
135A McCoy Hall

NOTE: The information contained in these self help documents is not to be used as a substitute for professional care.Neither the authors, Washington State Universitynor the College of Veterinary Medicine assume liability for injury incurred by following the information presented in these self-help documents
Last Edited: May 13, 2014 12:54 PM   

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