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How to actually study effectively

By Tom Lenton on 15 December 2017UKblogStudy tips

It’s pretty funny (and scary) that a lot of us make it to year 12 without having thought much about how to study properly. Sure, we know that we should write notes and do past papers and stuff, but that can still leave us wondering whether we are studying effectively.

So, to try and give you some guidance, we’ve broken down what we think really effective study actually looks like. Different strategies can work for different people, but we just wanted to lay out one super duper comprehensive approach to studying for you. That way, you can try it all out and see what works!

Stage 1: Covering the content

Okay, Stage 1. To start with, you just want to become familiar with all of the content. Yep, it’s really that simple 💁 .

You’re going to be introduced to the content of your subjects through class anyway, but then it’s going to be up to you to make yourself a really solid set of notes for each subject. If you try to base your notes on the structure of the syllabus, you can be sure that you’ve covered 100% of the content and have a solid foundation for each subject.

Wait, writing a complete set of notes is only stage 1? Yep, sorry!

Stage 2: Understanding the content

So it’s one thing to be aware of all the content in your subject, but it’s another thing to really understand it.

It’s pretty easy to think you understand an idea, but it’s also pretty easy to be unpleasantly surprised when something you thought you understood crops up in an exam and...BAM! You’re completely thrown because you’d really only memorised a few key points 🤔 .

So, for this stage, we recommend that you expose yourself to the same information in a few different ways: listen to your teacher, read books, read online summaries, watch videos, watch documentaries, and more.

Then, the best way to really test your understanding of a topic is to try and explain the idea (or the event, or the process, or the theme etc.) to someone else...even if it's just your dog.

If you can explain it clearly, you probably understand it clearly yourself!

Stage 3: Extending your understanding

Now that you know and understand your content, the way to reach the top marks is to extend your understanding. Now’s the time to start thinking critically, making high level connections, and being able to transfer knowledge.

This is where group study becomes cool - you already have your own understanding by this point, but then chatting to other people lets you see if they have extra information, any different opinions, or if they’ve made a link that you haven’t.

Another way of extending your understanding is to take your notes and rework them into really smart, connected summaries. The more times you go over your notes, the more you will be able to pick out the most crucial bits, pinpoint any critical links and arrange all the content into a really punchy, memorable and useful summary.

You’ll have to see what works for you, but this can be a seriously satisfying stage of study. Nail your extended understandings and you’re going to start feeling like an absolute genius.

Stage 4: Memorising key information

Next up, we want to start memorising key info. This stage is just about locking in the precise details you’ll need for top-mark-worthy answers, like key terms or quotations or formulas. However, you don’t wanna do this too soon: there’s no point being able to recite every finickity detail of everything you’ve learned so far at the end of year twelve.

So, it’s best to start working on this stage a few months before your big year 13 exams. Just bear in mind that your process will look different for each subject because each subject needs different kinds of info. Also, the secret to remembering these details is going to be a little different for each person, but some of the most popular options are mnemonics like acronyms and flash cards. Give them both a try and see what works for you.

By the way, have you noticed how the memorisation stage comes after the understanding stage? That’s super important, because it means that you know exactly what you need to remember (and nothing extra). Winner 🏆 .

Stage 5: Practice and application

Okay, we’re getting there! Stage 5 is simple enough - it’s just all about practice and application.

See, there’s no point going through the first 4 stages of studying if you aren’t going to make sure your revision is really working by testing yourself. Besides, you want to get a good sense of what doing your exam will feel like.

So, start with practice questions and then gradually move on to full on past papers in exam conditions. There isn’t much point doing this before you’ve moved through the first few stages because you’ll just get freaked out by how much you don’t know. However, once you’ve done plenty of study, this part is vital.

Stage 6: Skills

Sweet, we’re onto the final stage, and you’re pretty much done by now. This is just that little bit extra you can do above and beyond to make sure you are completely, 100% exam ready.

As well as studying the content of your subjects, it’ll be helpful for you to practise the basic exam skills that carry across your different subjects. This is going to be things like:

  • Time management in exams
  • Staying calm under pressure
  • Really addressing the key word in the question
  • Bringing source material into your answer

You get the idea - whatever’s relevant to your subject. It’s good to brush up on these skills, because the best study in the world isn’t worth anything if you don’t demonstrate it in an exam.


This might sound pretty intense, but it’s actually a lot of the study you would doing anyway and it doesn’t take as long as it sounds. So, just be aware of what you’re doing and tackle your study in the right order so it's a lot more effective. If you study smart from early on, you won’t need to be studying 24/7, and then you’ll have more time for the rest of your life (which is a lot more fun than study anyway… 🙌 )

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