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Don’t cram. Instead, spread out three hours of studying over four days, 45 minutes per night. This works for two reasons. The first is that when you review the material multiple times you gain more familiarity with it. Secondly, and most importantly, sleep on it. That’s right, sleep helps you learn. Studies show that you remember more when you take 10-15 minutes to review what you studied or learned earlier in the day just before you go to sleep. This doesn’t mean that you should do all your studying just before bedtime, but it does mean that reviewing those notes again just a few minutes before bedtime allows you to process the information as you sleep. You will remember more on test day if you reviewed it more often and have those memories stored during your sleep.
Thirty minutes of cardio a day, 4-5 days a week is an optimal strategy to improve learning. Aerobic exercise can improve focus as much as a low dose of a stimulant medication to treat ADHD. If you are a student athlete, study on the bus or the car as you travel home from an event. Consider studying right after practice, too. And if you don’t play a sport, run with your dog or shoot some hoops right before you sit down to do schoolwork.
Most people need to sleep 7.5-9 hours per night in order to encode memories, but teenagers typically need more, about 9.25 hours. Thirty minute afternoon naps can help, because your brain actually goes into a sort of sleep pattern in the early afternoon. Be sure these afternoon siestas aren’t too long since extended naps can interfere with sleep at night.
Breaks also help. In fact, studies show that students remember more when they have breaks between study sessions that when studying straight through for an extended period of time. Having downtime allows your brain to review information even when you don’t think you’re really processing it!