Productive studying: How to Study Active and Smart

Study less, study smart! Studying active instead of passive studying really is the key for successfully remembering your study material. Passive means ‘just’ reading and/or highlighting the text. As studies have shown, reading and highlighting, although being being popular methods, are not very effective for remembering what you are studying. However, when studying actively, your brain will remember the study material quicker and better (also on the long term!). The best methods and techniques of studying active are:


Active learning in the form of summarizing helps the brain with remembering more. But summarizing can quickly turn into just copying the text. A few tips and tricks:

  • Decide if making a summery is actually useful. If you have to study a book and you actually have to study (almost) everything, summarizing will quickly turn into just copying the text, which is not that efficient.
  • Choose between typing and writing. For me, this really depends on the study material. If it is a subject including maths and/or economics, I prefer wiring it, but summaries of more theoretical subjects I often type.
  • Make sure there is a good structure by using titles, headings, lists (sum things up!)
  • Although this is a cliché tip, but often (in my own experience) a common mistake, don’t copy text. Although it can be difficult, it is actually useful if you force yourself not to do it. Not copying the text not only saves (lots of!) time, it makes you really think about the material, about what is important and what is not.


Practice papers, exams, questions etc. are your best friend.  I have often made the classic ‘mistake’ to first study hard and then the evening before the exam practice an old exam. This is not optimal because of two reasons. One, I often got discouraged when the practice exam did not go as well as I would think, and I got convinced that I would fail the exam the next day. Secondly, studying based on the questions that are asked in a practice exam is often more efficient, as you know better what to expect and therefore what to focus on. 
You can also make yourself a practice exam; this is double efficient as making one requiring understanding and diving into the material and ‘taking the exam’ a bit later gives you a chance to see how much you remember.


Flashcards are useful in lots of ways. You can use it to study words if you are studying another language, to learn definitions or even when you are giving a presentation. Using flashcards can be done both online and offline. If you want to do it online, a few good sites that I have used a lot at high school to remember words and sentences of other languages are:

– Quizlet
– Memrise
– Dutch sites: WRTS and (high school savers!)
Making flashcards in the old school way probably costs more time, but writing them is also a good way of remembering the stuff. You can cut them yourself with old school paper, but you can also buy them in stores / in paper. Buying it obviously saves time, but there are other advantages as well:
– Lined flashcards, making it easier / neater to write on them
– Different colors, which is useful for the different subjects within the study material

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Other effective methods of studying

I think this actually the best way to remember the study material quickly and goodWhen you are teaching someone (or something, in the end, it does not really matter) you will actively search for the best way to explain the material to make it understandable. In this way, you are forced to understand it as best as possible yourself

Drawings/mind maps/tables/figures
This can sound a bit childish, but it really can be a sort ‘fun’ and efficient way to study; visualizing your study material could take away boredoms of the textbooks and helps in remembering the content. You could do by writing tables, drawing figures, making mind maps, etc.

Ask your parents, friend, or someone else to ask questions to you or when you have a friend / classmate who has to study the same, ask questions to each other. Talking about the study material helps you with remembering it quicker and better

Actively repeating
Not long before the exam or test, you could make a small summary of the most important study material. Actually, you write a summary of the summary. This forces you to think about the key points of all the content and repeat the study material in an effective way. This little summary is also useful for the morning of the exam, when going through everything quickly is not possible anymore. Instead, you are able to just briefly overlook the most important study material.

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