What are the most effective study skills?

by | May 23, 2023 | 0 comments

Do you ever find no matter how hard you try you are not making any progress with your studies and learning? Despite all your effort and hard work, you are still failing exams. Let’s go back to basics and look at what I consider to be effective study skills to pass exams.

When I coach students the first thing, I want is to get a good understanding of how they study. Common answers are, “I go over my required reading and lecture notes”. Other students will say, “I listen to recorded lectures and I write out my own notes (see my blog post on “Effective Note Taking Strategies” ).

These are all valid study techniques. We all lean towards our own natural style of learning.  We may be a visual learner, an auditory learner, or a kinaesthetic learner. If we lean towards a particular style of learning that does not mean that we should shy away from the other styles of learning.

I often think it would be great if I could go back to my younger student days many (many!) years ago and advise that younger Edel on more effective study skills to pass my exams.

I was a fan of putting hours and hours of work into my studies but on reflection I am not sure how much concentrated study I was doing. I used to rote learn without really getting a deep understanding of a topic. My study schedule used to be rigid without regular breaks. Sometimes I used to sit passively at my desk, and I used to get easily distracted. In other words, I made lots of mistakes and I am here now to tell you how to study effectively.

The most effective study skills are:

  • Space out your study
  • Interleaving
  • Use Concrete examples.
  • Engage in Self Testing or retrieval practice.

Space out your study

We need to space out our study. Cramming before an exam or assignment will only result in you scrapping the surface of your learning and most likely will forgotten straight after.

Spacing out your study will result in deeper quality learning. This may feel a little frustrating as invariably you will forget some of the material as the exam approaches but the more times you go over the material, the more it will embed in your memory.


Another effective study skill is interleaving. This is switching between subjects during your study session. Alternatively, you can switch between key sections of topic when studying. This practice mixes different kinds of problems within a single study session.

Concrete Examples

Use concrete examples when you are studying. When studying abstract concepts, it is useful to illustrate them with specific examples. This helps grasp abstract ideas.

Self-Testing or Retrieval Practice

In my opinion, the most effective study skill is retrieval practice. Self-testing or quizzing is a great form of retrieval practice. Testing and quizzing also gives you feedback on what you know and do not know. On the day of the exam, you will be doing retrieval practice. What this means is, you will be pulling information out of your brain.

Ineffective Study Techniques

Study strategies such as re-reading is pushing information into your memory which is the opposite of what you will be doing on the day of the exam.

There is a lot of research done on how much you retain by re-reading lectures notes. I can tell you it is very little! You need to keep going over material. You need to test yourself to see how much you know and how much you don’t know.

If you are still struggling, please do reach out to me. I am happy to do a free 30-minute chemistry call to ascertain your needs.