When I was in high school, I was often told to “study smart, not hard”. It’s a common high school trope and, to be completely frank, I didn’t know what it meant.

After graduating, it seemed to be the go-to advice for younger students, but it was rarely explained. I was guilty of this, too - I suggested “smart study” was the way to go without really nailing down what that actually entails.

So, in this article, I want to give some practical suggestions for things you can consider implementing in your study routine. These are 10 things I would consider “studying smart”. If I had to summarise the concept, I think smart study = making decisions that result in greater efficiency in the long-term. These things are often not groundbreaking or new, but the little differences they make on a day-to-day basis result in a big difference come the end of the year.


1. Study smart by limiting distractions

Perhaps the first thing to consider is your study environment. If you’re trying to study in an environment or context that isn’t conducive to effective study, you probably won’t study effectively. And if you do that over the long-term, you’re losing a lot of hours that could be used more suitably.

"Perhaps the first thing to consider is your study environment."

Some students find music beneficial when studying, whilst others find it distracting. Some like working in study groups, whilst others (like me) find they’re less efficient when doing so. There are no right answers - just personal preference. Knowing those personal preferences goes a long way to making good decisions when it comes to setting yourself up for study success.

If you’re interested, there’s a little more on this concept in this article on study preparation.


2. Study smart by prioritising

If you have a test for maths in three days and a test for English in nine days, which do you study for? All other things equal, you’d probably logically say that you should generally study for maths first, because it’s sooner - and I agree with that logic.

But what if you really hate studying for maths, but actually quite enjoy studying for English?

A trap I think a lot of us fall into - and something I found myself wanting to do a lot through Year 12 in particular - is spending a disproportionate amount of time on the subjects we enjoy most. Doing this can be counterproductive, however, because it results in some subjects being neglected. Before you start a study session, ask yourself which subject needs the most love at that given time given the context of due dates, amount of homework, and so on. You can always use studying for your preferred subjects as a way of mixing it up later on!


3. Study smart by not studying something if you don’t need to

In a similar vein to the above, you will probably find that you’re more confident about some topics within a subject than others. As a result, those familiar subjects probably feel pretty easy to study for, because you’re already across the content. On the other hand, the topics you find harder are probably more aggravating, or more frustrating, or more confusing.

"... the topics you find harder are probably more aggravating, or more frustrating, or more confusing."

If you’re finding an important topic confusing, it’s probably a good one to be studying. In my view, there’s limited utility in re-writing notes for something you already know like the back of your hand when you could instead be using that time to improve in one of your weaker areas.

I get that these are hard choices to make in the heat of the moment, and there are certainly situations where ‘lighter’ study is warranted and appropriate. But the more focused you are with your study, I think the more likely you are to improve your weaker areas.


4. Study smart by being strategic with exam preparation

It’s good to be strategic when it comes to exam revision timing, of course - like you don’t want to leave yourself only a day or two to cram in as much information as you can. But there are also other factors I’m referring to here when it comes to exam preparation.

This article looks at one factor - the actual time of day of the exam - that is often ignored. You might also like to switch your revision across to practice exams and practice questions to gain familiarity with the format of the exam; it’s all well and good knowing subject content, but if you can’t apply that information to exam-style questions, you’ll struggle to get full marks.


5. Study smart by building good study habits

This one is a bit more about the long-game. If you build good habits early in the year, you’ll probably benefit later on. For example, if you put in place measures to get enough sleep in Term 1, by Term 4, that will just be a habit. On the other hand, if you sleep poorly throughout the year, it might be much more of a struggle to get sleep before exams.

To me, building these little habits incrementally is all about studying smart. There’s a lot more to study than just the study itself.

"There's a lot more to study than just the study itself."


6. Study smart by being active in your revision

It’s really easy to sort of cruise through study sessions without actually getting anything out of them - trust me, I’ve done it many times.

If you’re sitting down to do some study, you might as well try to make it count. There’s little utility from reading through a textbook, realising you didn’t take in anything the chapter was saying, trying again, and getting the same result. If you’re noticing things like that occur, it might be a nice idea to switch your study method to something more active - that is, something that requires clearer attention.

Perhaps you’d like to instead make a mindmap, or answer some practice questions. There are some study technique ideas here.


7. Study smart by paying attention in class

In my mind, this one is pretty basic. I get that it’s great to hang out with friends in class, but I’ve never understood the logic behind not paying attention in class, then having to catch up on work in your own time. My view is that it makes way more sense to pay attention in class, then be able to fully relax later on.


8. Study smart by asking questions

Asking questions is really important. Investing a couple of minutes into asking a question in class can result in more thorough understanding and, therefore, more efficient study later on. The alternative is not asking that question, being unclear with content, and getting frustrated when trying to learn it on your own.

To me, asking questions in class is smart study - or, at the very least, it sets you up for smart study. ✅

"... it sets you up for smart study."


9. Study smart by building connections

One cool thing about a lot of Year 12 subjects is that there are usually a lot of connections within the course (and often between different subjects, too). Instead of viewing each syllabus dot point as an isolated silo of information, try to take a more holistic approach to study in each of your subjects.

If you can make conceptual connections in your subjects, my view is that you’re well on your way to truly understanding the subject overall. And when you properly understand the subject - not just isolated parts of the subject - you’re in a much better position to excel in the end-of-year exam.


10. Study smart by opting for short and sharp sessions

The interesting thing with study is that more study doesn’t necessarily mean better results. Strapping yourself in for a four-hour study session with no breaks probably isn’t a sustainable way of going about things. Instead, opt for shorter, more focused study sessions punctuated by regular breaks. Doing this will help keep your mind fresh and your study efficient, allowing you to spend more time doing things you enjoy!


Best of luck for your study this year.