Ten Scientifically Proven Ways to Study Better
Most law school students have probably received no shortage of advice regarding tips for studying and acing final exams. With all of this advice, how should students go about evaluating what might actually work? We’re here to help! Below we include ten scientifically proven ways to study better so you can contextualize some of the advice you may have received throughout law school.
Ten Scientifically Proven Ways to Study Better
1. Optimize Lighting and Temperature
As you begin embarking on your law school studies, keep in mind that lighting matters! Studies show that people who have access to natural lighting during their work day are significantly more alert at the beginning of the evening than those who spend their days under artificial lighting. Additionally, artificial lighting can even make you more stressed! The best part about studying with plenty of natural light? Aside from finding some sun, there’s nothing else you need to do in order to increase your productivity! You can continue with your studying just as you planned, but you also might have some more energy at the end of the day!
If you are struggling to find a spot with plenty of natural light that’s conducive to studying, fear not! Waking up a little bit earlier to take advantage of some morning sunlight or investing in some sun lamps can also help with productivity!
Like with lighting, the temperature of your study space can also impact your productivity. Spaces that are too cold or too hot can impact your ability to focus. A study from Cornell found that when temperatures were low employees made significantly more mistakes. This is because at colder temperatures you are using your energy to keep warm. At warmer temperatures, you can use your energy to focus on your work! Keeping your body warm (not too hot, not too cold!) is key. So, what’s the ideal temperature? For most folks, it’s around seventy-seven degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius).
If you plan to study away from home for the day, wear or bring multiple layers! Putting on or taking off a sweatshirt might make memorizing your outlines just a little bit easier!
2. Use Printed Materials
Consider using printed books and outlines when studying in law school. Studies show that students who studied solely using their computer screen had to do more repetition in order to digest the same information as opposed to students who used print materials. Additionally, students who used print materials seemed to understand the materials more fully than students who only relied on electronic resources. This is because printed materials give us specific reference points where we can close our eyes and picture where something is on a page. Those reference points are harder to find in ebooks and electronic outlines since everything looks the same when simply scrolling.
While students who used electronic materials were still able to retain and recall information, students who used print material were able to do so more quickly. So, don’t shy away from print materials. It might just make your studying go a little bit faster!
3. Mix-Up Where You Study
One of the hardest things to do while studying in law school is to be consistent in your study habits. Where’s the best place to study? In the exact location where you are going to be taking an exam! If this isn’t a possibility for you (and it’s not for most students), try varying where you study. Even with a great law school study schedule, you still may find yourself spinning your wheels, especially on days when getting motivated is a struggle.
If you find yourself in this position, try moving to a new study space! For example, if you usually study on your living room sofa, try going to a coffee shop. Spending all day at the library? Try studying at your kitchen table! Studying in multiple locations can help you better retain and recall the course material. This is due to a concept called context variation.
Context variation refers to the idea that as you learn information, you also, unintentionally, internalize information about the surrounding environment. When you attempt to recall the information you learned at a later date, the environmental information you unintentionally internalized can act as a “hint,” making the information easier to recall. By studying in multiple settings, you are expanding the number of contexts available, or “hints,” when you attempt to recall the information at a later date. This leads to higher retention (which leads to more success on the bar exam!). For more information about context variation and how it can impact your studying, check out this article!
4. Get Excited!
This is truly one of our favorite tips! Getting excited for an upcoming exam or study session might sound absolutely impossible for many students. After all, studying in law school can be incredibly stressful. In order to relieve some of the nervousness surrounding an upcoming final exam or midterm, many students try to channel some calm energy. Finding a way to get excited about what you have coming up, however, might just be what you need in order to take your studying to the next level!
For most students, studying in law school and final exams bring nerves, stress, and anxiety. This can be incredibly distracting as students try to focus on their studies and keep their emotions in check. Naturally, students try to channel calm energy as a way to overpower these emotions. A Harvard study, however, shows that this might just make things more stressful! Instead, channeling your nervous energy into excitement might be more beneficial! Redirecting all of that nervous energy into excitement as opposed to trying to quell that energy tends to be an easier transition to make.
That study showed that people who got excited about taking a math text actually performed 8% better than people who tried to relax or who did nothing at all before the test. That 8% might just make the difference in getting a higher letter grade on a final exam!
So, how can you get excited about an upcoming test? Start with simple positive affirmations. Tell your mom, your friend, your dog, your cat, or even just yourself that you are excited for your Evidence final exam. Simply saying that you are excited about an upcoming exam can help you adjust your emotions into ones of excitement as opposed to stress and worry.
Another way to get excited is to simply have fun while studying! Spend a short time each day or each week explaining a part of the law you find interesting and/or exciting to a friend or family member. Figure out what subjects you find to be the most exciting, and work on those areas when you feel like you are in a lull.
Finally, spend time with people who are also excited and maintain positive attitudes! Surrounding yourself with positivity can be incredibly motivating as you finish up your studies!
5. Use Scents
Essential oils are a great tool to help you better focus and retain information more easily. Studies have shown if you smell the same scent when you are studying as when you are sleeping, you will remember more! Try to use the same scent when you study and while you sleep. If you can, also use the same scent again on final exam day. (If this is not a possibility, don’t worry! A recent study showed that using it when you slept was actually more beneficial than using it on test day!)
6. Take “Power Breaks”
There are essentially two different types of breaks you can take while studying. One is to spend some time browsing social media, eating junk food, engaging in stressful activities, or otherwise using your computer screen for a different purpose. That’s not the type of break we’re talking about for this study tip. Here, we’re talking about a break that’s sole purpose is to reenergize you to make you feel focused and refreshed when you take up studying again. A break that truly reenergizes you might include eating a healthy snack, calling a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while, or going for a walk or run. Essentially, make sure you engage in activities that allow you to take your mind off of studying so you can fully recharge!
7. Study for Short Intervals and Take Breaks
If you’re a regular reader of our blog, this study tip is probably nothing new. We regularly recommend that students study for shorter intervals and take frequent breaks. The short reason is that this technique works! It helps you stay focused while you engage with course material while minimizing distractions and burnout. Try studying for fifty quality minutes (with no phone or other distractions on your computer screen). Once you’ve studied for fifty minutes, take a quick ten-minute break. This break likely won’t be anything too elaborate (save that for when you’ve studied for longer!), but it should be just enough time to give your mind a quick break before hitting the books again. By engaging with this technique, you’ll be able to retain and recall a lot more information as you continue with your studies!
8. Don’t Wait Until the End of the Semester to Review
During law school, you’ll have a lot of material thrown your way. Between reading for classes and attending classes, there’s no shortage of material that you have to absorb throughout the course of a semester! This leads us to our next tip which is to review course materials within twenty-four hours of learning it. Not only will this allow you to get clarify any questions you might have while the material is fresh in your head, but studies also show that this aids you in remembering 80% of what you learned!
Don’t stop there, though! Continue to review the material at regular intervals throughout the semester so you don’t find yourself in a position where you have to cram prior to a final exam! By regularly reviewing material, you’ll be much more familiar with it come time for final exams, and it will make your studying during the reading period much easier!
9. Actively Review Materials
Take care to ensure that you are actively engaging with the course materials! Many students fall into passive learning patterns instead of actively engaging with course materials. Re-reading books, re-listening to lectures, or re-reading your notes all qualify as passive learning. Instead, try quizzing yourself to get engaged with the material. Ask a friend to see if you can explain a legal concept to them. This can help you determine any holes that might exist in your understanding of the concept. We wrote another post with tips on how to memorize material in law school which also contains active memorization and study techniques.
Additionally, creating outlines is also an active study technique that not only helps you better engage with the material but is also a necessary component of succeeding on final exams. Also, vary how you actively approach the material. By engaging in a number of different active study techniques, you’ll keep your brain interested, and you’re more likely to retain and recall information during final exams!
10. Quality Over Quantity
Last but not least, remember spending quality time studying puts you ahead in the long run over spending a certain amount of time studying. It’s easy to listen to other students and think that you’re not doing enough studying! When students complain about pulling an all-nighter or studying for hours on end, that doesn’t mean you are behind! These students might be studying while distracted or may be catching up after not reviewing material for weeks on end. Instead, focus on engaging in quality studying. Put your phone in the next room and don’t have any browser windows open that are not related to the materials you’re reviewing. By using your study time efficiently, you’ll have more time to relax!