How to study less, study smart

Beginners guide to learning more without putting in much effort

Arjun Sunil
5 min readMay 3, 2020

It was a sunny Sunday afternoon during the COVID-19 lockdown when I decided to browse YouTube to kill some time and I came across this title Marty Lobdell — Study Less Study Smart. It was an hour-long video and I had been recently struggling to keep my focus while trying to study. I thought, “Hmm, interesting, let’s give it a shot; maybe it might help figure out ways of where I was going wrong.”

Before we deep dive, here’s a short intro

I was never a straight-A student in school. I used to get sent to the principal’s office way more often than a normal kid usually would and was often the most “outstanding student” in the class (pun intended). I HATED doing homework and more often than not, I was punished with taking laps of our sports ground.

Taking a lap!

My parents would always get quite an earful when they came to the open house at my school 😅. I wasn’t all bad; I used to pay attention during the classes, but that was more or less my life back in school.
In college, things didn’t change much, I was still the average student getting enough grades to cross the border and staying afloat to move on to the next step in the education ladder. Post Graduation changed things, significantly. In one of the semesters, I didn’t clear a math exam for my Masters. That’s exactly what I was trying to study lately and couldn’t get myself to focus.
Okay enough about me, let's move to the part you came here for.

On with the good stuff!

A while ago, I had worked on a course on Coursera by the name “Learning how to learn” and there struck me, the concepts being talked about here(in the lecture by Marty) were quite synonymous to what I’d learned in the Coursera course. So I thought, I’m gonna use this to brush up the things I already knew.

An average human’s concentration span ranges from 25–30 minutes.

Being able to study and understand anything beyond that time frame is not normal and unless our brain has been reinforced and trained to stay focused for longer periods, we can’t stay focused.

Taking breaks after these short study periods. It helps bring our focus back to the level at which we started. These 25 Minutes work, 5-minute break(often called the Pomodoro technique/tomato timer technique) is also quite useful in getting procrastination under control; talk about taking out two birds with one stone!

A designated area of work

Have a designated area for studying, a desk away from the sight of the bed. Get a desk lamp, and attach a sticky note to your lamp and use it ONLY while studying. This will help us wire the brain into associating focus with turning on the lamp for studying.

The “Study” Lamp

Treat and reinforce


Treat yourself with something for finishing up on a study session. If you like beer, you could study from say 3–9 in the evening and head out to a bar as a treat for achieving your target. But you gotta be honest with yourself and not cheat. Even chocolate works! Although, drinking a day right before your exams is not a good idea!

Studying is a reinforced behavior

When someone asks a question to a crowd, people naturally end up raising their hands. When you’re asked the same question in person, you’re not gonna be raising your hands. Similar to raising hands, even studying is a reinforced behavior. You get better at this over time with experience.

Learn concepts, don’t memorize them as facts

Try to understand concepts, not facts. Understand why it exists, how it works, you’ll be able to remember topics at hand much better than rote memorization.

You’re trying to remember: Sigmund Freud — Father of psychoanalysis.
Don’t just remember the name, remember the concept of what is psychoanalysis, associating a name with a concept is easier to grasp rather than the fact by itself

Memorized facts are bound to be forgotten, concepts on the other hand if remembered by associating proper context, you might end up remembering the concept for a lifetime.

Recognizing and remembering something is entirely different

Let's say you read up on a topic a day before your exam. You see the same topic and you’re not able to recall what you read. You’re familiar with the concept and keep thinking, I KNOW THIS! I KNOW THIS!

But in reality, you’re just familiar with this. If you’re lucky you might be able to get a few keywords that might jog up your memory but that's the most of it.

If you want to see the difference in practice, pick up a magazine and leaf through it from start to end. When you see some ad on a specific page, you do recognize the ad. But given any page in front of you, can you remember what comes next right after your current page? Once you switch to the next page you’d be like OH YES, I REMEMBER THIS. You’re just familiar with it and familiarity with something doesn’t last for too long. That's the difference between recognizing & remembering.


When we’re awake and using our brains, we build up toxins. Sleep is the mechanism by which these toxins get flushed out of the brain. When studying our brain is being utilized quite a lot and if we don’t get enough sleep the night before appearing for an exam, all the effort we put in will go to vain.

For our brain to function normally and to recall everything it has stored, it needs a fixed number of hours to ensure the toxins get flushed out of it right before it's about to get used.

Studies have linked REM sleep state being highly important in converting short term memory to long term memory, so it’s important to get a proper amount of sleep before an exam rather than trying to pull an all-nighter.

So, I guess that about wraps it up! All the points I’ve mentioned above are my understandings. If you’d like to attend the full lecture check out the links in References below.




Arjun Sunil

I talk about real world experiences in Tech and Scaling Deep Learning based workloads | Reach out via @arjun921 /