how to study hard material

How to study hard material: The top 3 tips

Katie Azevedo good habits, study skills, study tips


Knowing how to study hard material is different from knowing how to review information you’re already familiar with. When the content we’re learning is new and complex, we have to use techniques that work with this type of information. Below, I list the 3 best study tips for studying hard material.

STUDY TIP 1: Use various input sources.

Simply reading or rereading text is a terrible way to study, because it only presents the information from one angle. If the material is particularly difficult for us, and this “angle” isn’t our style, then we’re going to struggle, get annoyed, and give up.

So in addition to reading your text, seek out DIFFERENT ways to learn the information. For example, find YouTube videos about the topic, find other websites that explain the material  in different language, find another book about it, listen to a podcast about it, do a Google Image search … there are so many options.

Using various input sources (finding the information from different places) is one of the best study tips out there, especially if you struggle with knowing how to study hard material. This study technique helps us understand the material, process the material, remember the material. And obviously we can only pass a test is we remember what the heck we are studying.

study tips for how to learn hard material

Vary your input sources! Use a mixture of video, audio, textual and hand-written sources.

STUDY TIP 2: Talk it out.

Oh man, this study tip is so key. There are three parts. Dooooo this one, guys! There is actual science behind this. (Or at least Einstein is behind it — and he’s as close to science as anyone!)

  1. Find someone else from your class or even your teacher and ask him or her to explain the material to you. So obviously this person has to know the information themselves, right? So listen closely, and ask questions as they explain it. Stop them if you zone out or don’t get it.
  2. Explain the material (as well as you can) back to the person as if they have never heard it before. Encourage this person to ask you questions too.
  3. Find a different person (family member or friend) who is NOT familiar with the material. Attempt to explain the material to them as thoroughly as possible, in a way that is easy for them to understand. Encourage them to ask questions when they are unclear. Don’t stop explaining the material until the other person really understands it.

As I’ve said a bazillion times in my other videos and blogs, the best way to learn something is to teach it.  So if you find that you can’t explain it clearly … guess what? … that means you don’t know it.

I know we all do this — we all fool ourselves into thinking we know something. But then when we’re actually tested, we realize that we really don’t know our stuff. That’s why trying to explain the information to someone else really lets us know if we have learned it ourselves.

STUDY TIP 3: Test yourself constantly.

I actually recommend testing yourself on new and difficult material as you’re learning it and not only when you’re sitting down to study it before a test. (That’s the real secret if you wanna know… start studying early, my friends!)

Anyways,  let me explain what I mean by “test yourself constantly”:

When we’re studying, we want to do more than just read or re-read our notes. Of course, we want to study using various input sources (study tip #1) and talk through the material with someone else (study tip #2), but testing ourselves (study tip #3) is something we should do while we’re doing the other stuff.

So after reading a page of notes, we could turn to a fresh sheet of paper and see if we can write about what we just read (without looking back at our notes).

After studying a certain process for biology or after studying Spanish vocabulary words, we could turn to a fresh sheet of paper and see if we can map out the biology process or define those Spanish words without looking back at our notes. If we can’t write out these concepts without checking back at our notes, we don’t know the material well enough — and so we know to go back and study it more.

Final notes about studying hard material

Shocking news: There’s no miracle shortcut for magically memorizing a ton of information. (I know! I’m sorry!)  Instead, it’s a matter of using legit study techniques (like the ones in the post you’re reading, and also in this study tips post and in this one too) and proper planning.

Depending on our personal strengths and weaknesses, we might have to study more or less than our friends. That’s totally okay. What’s also okay is that we study differently than our friends, depending on our learning style. But I tell you, no matter your learning style, the subject you’re studying, or what level you’re at, these 3 strategies for how to study hard material really do work.

As many of you already know, there’s no miracle shortcut for studying successfully; instead, it’s a matter of using good study habits and proper planning. Depending on your personal strengths and weaknesses, you might have to study more or less than your friends. That’s totally okay! But hopefully these quick study tips for learning hard material will help you nail your next study session with less stress. If you’re looking for more study tips, here are 10 more ways to study anything.



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