Study Methods That Are Scientifically Proven To Work

Finding study strategies that are effective in college can be very challenging. Oftentimes, what worked in high school may be ineffective in rigorous and time-intensive college classes. I personally struggled with this when I began my MCAT preparation; the strategies I used for normal classes were not applicable to the exam. Luckily, I had a lot of guidance from my friends, mentors, and peers and was able to find something that worked for me. In an effort to aid your discovery, here are a few strategies that have been scientifically proven to be effective!

Pomodoro Technique

This is a personal favorite. I used this technique heavily when studying for the MCAT and felt it was the most effective way to stay focused for long periods of time.

The premise behind this strategy is to divide your sessions into intervals. The classic example is to work for 25 minutes and then take a break for 5 minutes. If you have 3 hours to study, for example, you can get through 6 Pomodoro sessions. The key to success with this strategy is to stay focused with NO distractions during the work period. Conversely, when taking your break, do not touch any of your schoolwork. This allows you to stay motivated for longer periods of time and breaks the monotony of long study sessions.

Pro tip: you can alter the length of each block. During my MCAT studying, I did 4 blocks in which I studied for an hour and a half and then took a 30-minute break. Feel free to alter the timing and see what works for you. There are also a multitude of apps that can help with this as well!

Challenge The "Forgetting Curve"

The forgetting curve represents the rate at which we forget information.

Studies show that we forget the most information within the first 24 hours of learning something. Reviewing information after you initially see it can delay this and make studying for exams easier and less stressful.

I remember my Ochem professor suggesting that we skim our notes from lectures every night for around 5 minutes. Admittedly, I never did this, however, I can see how this would have helped tremendously. One way to effectively apply this strategy is using tools such as Anki or creating flashcards to easily review content consistently! This is definitely something that is necessary during MCAT preparation.

Create Mind Maps

One of my favorite study strategies from freshman year was creating mind maps in my dorm study room. For classes that require you to remember a ton of information, like general chemistry or biology, organizing the content mentally and finding relationships between concepts can really help with recall during exam day. When studying for a test, I would create a mind map for each unit/chapter on a whiteboard, take a picture of it, and then look over it daily until my exam. Here is an actual example of a mind map I made for introductory biology freshman year:

The Feynman Technique

The Feynman Technique encourages students to teach a concept to themselves or another person. I personally believe the best way to test your understanding is by helping someone else learn something. Teaching a concept requires you to deeply engage in the material and will quickly highlight holes in your knowledge. Also, it is a great way to collaborate with peers and creates a more healthy learning environment. This is something I used regularly during my organic chemistry courses!