6 Science-Backed Study Hacks for Acing Exams

It's all about knowing how to study effectively so you can get great grades and save time too.

Published January 8, 2024
Teenage boy studying at home

When you've got an exam the next day (or even next week), knowing how to study effectively can mean the difference between acing and bombing your test. There's actually a science to how we learn and retain information, and using science-backed study hacks can be super helpful. Here are a few of our favorites.

1. Drink a Cup of Coffee Before You Study

Unless you're cramming the night before an exam and need to be able to sleep, studies show consuming moderate amounts of caffeine can help you process new information and retain what you learn. In this case, "moderate" caffeine consumption is defined as 4 mg/kg of body weight. For a 130-pound student, this is about 236 mg of caffeine (or 20 ounces of brewed coffee).

Fast Fact

Caffeine can help you perform better on exam day too, especially if you're testing during a time of day when you're generally less alert. Night owls who had caffeine before their morning exams did better than those who didn't in their studies.

2. Study at Night if You're a Night Owl

Speaking of night owls, it turns out the time of day is a big factor when it comes to studying effectively. Not only do you do better on exams that actually happen during your best time of day (too bad you can't control the timing of those), but studies show your controlled memory works better during that time of day too. Controlled memory means your ability to memorize things and recall them at will.

Teenage girl lying on bed studying at night time

You probably already know whether you are a morning person or a night person, but one of the best tips for studying is to use that information to your advantage. If you naturally wake up early and perform best in the morning, that's when you should study. If you're a night owl, crack open your books after the sun goes down.

3. Read Up Right Before Bed (and Sleep Well)

Whether you go to bed at 9 p.m. or 2 a.m., science is pretty clear on one thing: a good night's sleep will help your memory. Studies also indicate that your brain is working to make sense of information it learned during the day, and reviewing right before bed will help. You don't have to do a full-on study session if you're not a night person but just read through the study guide or your notes once before your head hits the pillow.

4. Chunk Information to Remember It Better

This probably won't come as a surprise to you if you've been a human for a while, but our brains aren't awesome at remembering tons of tiny details at once. They're pretty good at recalling bigger chunks of information, though. Chunking what you need to remember is a good way to study effectively. Basically, you make connections between the small details to string them together. When you remember one thing, that leads you to the next.

For example, if you need to remember that Napoleon lost the battle of Waterloo in 1815, was exiled twice, and was the ruler of France twice, you could put these events in order chronologically (ruler of France from 1804 to 1814, exiled to Elba, ruler again in 1815 until the battle of Waterloo, exiled again). The way you chunk information will depend on the subject you're studying and what makes sense to you.

Related: Proven Ways to Help You Focus While You Study 

5. Go for a Run While You Study

We all know exercise is good for us, but did you know that it can actually help you remember things? Studies show that exercising very close to the time you learn something will help you remember it better. Record your class notes or study guide on a voice memo and listen to it while you go for a run or hit the gym.

Teenage girl jogging with headphones

6. Take a Five-Minute Snack Break

Sitting in one place for too long can actually make it harder to stay focused, and studies indicate that just taking five minutes to stand up and move around can make a huge difference in a student's ability to retain what they learn. This means that if you're cramming for an exam the next day or reviewing before a midterm, you may be able to remember more of what you study if you get up and move around every hour or so. Go grab a snack or drink and give your brain a few minutes to recharge.

Work Smarter With Study Hacks

Sure, you've got to put the time in and review the material, but knowing how to study effectively can mean less time with your head in the books and better grades too. You're already working hard, so work smarter too.

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6 Science-Backed Study Hacks for Acing Exams