How To Study Less, Have More Free Time, And Still Get Higher Grades

As human beings with limited time, energy, and resources, we naturally desire to get the most done with the least amount of work possible. From reading books and experimenting throughout the years, I have accumulated a collection of techniques that maximizes efficiency and has allowed me to achieve a 3.93 GPA while studying less than three hours a day.

Below are some of these techniques. Although I have separated it in general and chemistry study tips sections, these study tips can be applied to every class you will ever take in high school & college. Furthermore, some of these tips, especially the blocking technique, will skyrocket your ability to get more done in less time not only in school, but in life in general.

I hope these tips will benefit you as much as they have and continue to help me.

General Study Tips

1. Study in purely focused block periods

Our body functions in cycles. For example, our circadian rhythm dictates when we sleep. Likewise, our brains also work in cycles. The human mind can only focus so long before it fatigues. It is much smarter to follow the natural Ultradian rhythm instead of going against it.

Follow the 50-10-50-30 rule. Work on one subject uninterrupted for fifty minutes. I recommend using a stopwatch. iPhones and iPods have built in stopwatch apps. If you don’t have an iPhone or iPod, you can always use online stopwatches or buy one for really cheap. Turn off all distraction. No cell phones, no laptops, no disruptions. Set the timer to fifty minutes then begin working. You’ll find that after the first twenty minutes or so, you’ll enter a flow state.

After the fifty minute is up, set the timer for ten minutes and relax completely. Watch videos, go on FB, talk with friends, etc. Then work for another fifty minute block period. Again, no distractions. It is best to work on the same subject if you haven’t finished since your mind is still in that state. After those fifty minutes are up, relax completely for thirty minutes. Get up and move around, eat a meal, or take a nap. Allow your brain to recharge. I usually finish all my homework / studying after one 50-10-50-30 period. But if you don’t, you can do another 50-10-50-30 period.

If you choose to implement just one study tip, implement this one! It take some discipline, but if you really follow the time guideline and work with interruptions, you’ll be two or three times more efficient. You’ll get more done in two hours than you could have ever imagined.

P, TN, R

How much of an advantage would you have over your classmates if you have learned the material three times before they have even learned it once? This technique allows you to do just that. P, TN, R stands for preview, take notes, and review.

Preview the material before class. In chem 1A, the professors upload the lecture slides onto bspace the day before. Read over the slides to get a general overview of the structure and material to be presented. If any questions come up during this time, write it down. If anything in the slide contradicts what you thought, write it down. You can also skim over the corresponding pages in the textbook to get an even better background understanding. Most students usually neglect looking at the slide beforehand and come to class unprepared and clueless. By previewing, you’ll be a head start because you’ll know what to expect during class. Number of times learning the material. You: 1. Regular student: 0.

Pay attention and take detailed notes during class. You already have a basic understanding of the material because you have previewed. You already have a sense of what is the most important point. Build on that by writing down notes that are related to those main points. The key during the class is to pay attention. If you bring a laptop to class, don’t be watching cat videos on Youtube or checking your Facebook. A lot of students go to class, but they don’t learn. Many end up getting distracted or falling asleep. By paying attention and taking notes, you’ll continue to build on your lead. Number of times learning the material. You: 2. Regular stuent: 0.5, maybe 1.

Review the material as soon as you can after class, ideally immediately. Look over your notes, and then summarize the key points of the lecture. It is crucial to review as soon as you can because you are cementing what you learned into from short term into long term memory. Most students fail to review asap and don’t look at their notes again until the week before midterms. Number of times learning the material. You: 3. Regular student: 0.5, maybe 1.

Because of the long entry, this may seem like a lot of additional work, but in reality, it really isn’t. Reading the slides and skimming the maybe may take half an hour tops. You’re already in class so you might as well pay attention and take notes. Reviewing may only take another ten minutes. All together, you may be spending an additional forty minutes at most, but you’ll be saving yourself hours down the road where most students have to relearn the material because they never adequately learned it the first time.

3.Learn material the first time around

Learn the material the first time it is presented. If you run into something you don’t understand while reading or during lecture, write down questions or make a note of what you don’t understand. Then commit yourself to learning that concept as soon as you can, preferably in the same day. Re-read the book, attend office hours, search online, ask a tutor, but learn it no matter what.

The concepts in chem 1A build upon each other. If you fail to grasp one concept, then you’re going to fail to understand all the subsequent concepts that build upon that concept, creating a snowball effect of “I don’t know’s.” Don’t let your “don’t know’s” pile up and try to learn everything the week before midterms. Learn the material the first time around and save yourself time and headaches later.

4.Sleep & wake up earlier

Did you ever wonder why you can sleep for ten hours and still wake up feeling restless? There are many reasons, but one of the biggest factors is the time you went to bed. Our body’s rejuvenation phase occurs between 10pm – 2am. During that time, our cells repair and replenish themselves. Most of us normally sleep after 1am. That means most of us are only getting one hour of rejuvenative rest. If you’re sleeping after 2am, your body is barely getting any, which explains why you wake up tired even after a long night sleep.

Try to sleep before 12 so you at least get two hours of restorative sleep. Also, wake up earlier. I find that I work two three times more productively in the early morning. It is much easier to focus in the morning. Everywhere is quiet, your friends are asleep, and there’s no point in going on FB. Even if you don’t consider yourself a morning person, give this a try. You might be pleasantly surprised at what moving your bedtime back a few hours can do to your productivity.

Chemistry Study Tips

1. Always keep the big picture in mind

All the topics in chem 1A are interconnected although it can seem very unrelated at times. As you know, the curriculum is split into 4 units: matter, change, energy, and light. When you are studying for a midterm, keep the big topic in mind. For example, when you’re studying for the light midterm, see how everything in the slides relates to light. Unless the professor is terrible at teaching, the information is on the slides for a reason: because it’s relevant to the topic. Also build connections between concepts. You’re not just memorizing a bunch of random facts (well kinda, but bear with me). Almost everything you learn can be supported / explained by something you learned before.

2. Dedicate a specific amount of time to chemistry outside of class

This is another tip that can skyrocket your productivity and prevent hours of wasted time, especially if combined with 50-10-50-30 rule. Dedicate a specific time period to study chem 1A outside of lecture/ lab. Tell yourself, “I’m going to spend X amount of hours on chem everyday.” Unless something unexpected comes up, spend no more and no less than the determined time period on chem.

There are two benefits. First, it’ll speed up your work. If you know you only have X amount of time to study, you’re going to study faster so you can get your work done in time. Second, it’ll keep you on track and prevent you from falling behind. Most of the time, your specified time period will allow you to finish right in time. Other times, you might finish that day’s homework a bit earlier. Remember, you still have to spend the determined time period on chem. So in the latter scenario, review your notes for past lectures, work on something that isn’t due for a week, do some practice problems. Be proactive with your time.

Warning: This tip only works if you actually spend the entire dedicated time period working. Don’t say you’re going to spend two hours of chem, then spend 45 of those 120 minutes on Facebook. Also, dedicate a reasonable time period. I don’t think anyone can get everything done in fifty or thirty minutes.

3. Apply Pareto’s 80/20 Principle

If you’ve never heard about this principle, your life is about to be changed. Pareto was an Italian economist who observed that 80% of the land inItalywas owned by 20% of the population.

Why is this relevant at all? Well, the 80/20 principle doesn’t only apply in economics. It applies in almost everything we do. Roughly 80% of our results come from 20% of our effort. For sales representatives, 80% of successful closes come from 20% of the customers. Likewise for us students, 80% of our grades come from 20% of our effort. In other words, 80% of our effort only account for 20% of our grade, which mean most students spend the majority on their time on assignment or work that determine a small fraction of their grade.

So how can Pareto’s principle help you get better grades with less studying? The key is to find the highest leverage activities, find the 20% of work/ assignments that are accounting for 80% of your grade. Then spend more time on those work/ assignment and less time on the majority that only account for 20% of your grade.

4. Attend office hours

This tip is blatantly obvious but most students never attend office hours. Professor office hours provide many benefits. First, you’re interacting with one of the smartest minds in the world & one of the leaders in his / her respective fields.

Second, when you ask questions, you are getting answers from the person who will be writing your exams. I had professor in the past who even hinted to me what will & won’t be on the exam. Most professor can explain complex subjects in a way that’s easy to understand in office hours even if they seem completely perplexing in lecture.

Third, attending office hours regularly is a fantastic way to develop a relationship with your professor. If you’re pre-health, you’re going to need letter of recommendations later. It is much better to ask a professor who knows you somewhat personally than to ask a professor in whose class you got a good grade. Some professor will even hook you up with research / internship positions.

WARNING: go to office hours early. Office hours tend to get packed as midterms near. You might not even get to ask a question because there are so many students.

Besides professor office hours, you can also go to GSI office hours.

5. Ask classmates for help & help classmates in need

One downside to science majors is that they think by helping others, they will be hurting themselves since classes are curved. While that may be true for some science classes, it isn’t for chem 1A. Chem 1A is graded completely on a point scale. If everyone in the class gets above 90%, then everyone will get an A. That being the case, help other students in need. Share your resources with your classmates. If you find a helpful explanation online, SHARE. Explain concepts to people who need help. I’m sure you’ve all heard it before, but teaching really is the best way of learning. You may think you fully understand the concept, but you may discover otherwise when trying to teach it to someone else.

If you’re struggling, ask your classmates for help. Don’t try to do everything by yourself. Chem 1A is possibly one the biggest class in campus. You have over 1000 classmates. Make some friends in lecture or lab and mutually help each other out. Sometimes, having a friend explain the concept to you in ten minutes is more effective than reading about it in the book for thirty minutes


It's interesting how different one's take can be on a strategy.  I like your idea of P, TN, R.  But, for me personally, it would be P, P, P.  Preview, preview, preview.   I somehow just became aware of the strategy I needed during my freshman year in college (1978).  Most of my professors went sequentially through a textbook (as I'm sure many still do).  It became very simple...I would read the next chapter to be covered two or three times, and do all of the problems at the end of the chapter for which there were correct answers to double-check with in the appendix.  By the time I got to the lecture on the subject, I was asking questions that made it sound like I was a visiting professor on the topic from another university. ha!  I never took notes in class, and never studied for a final (3.91 GPA; graduated 19th out of about 19,000).  So relaxing compared to what most do!  


Michael L.

Helping Students Succeed in Chemistry since 2009

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