From FAILING to TOP scorer: 7 practical study tips to study smarter

How to study smarter 🎯

Study Smart + Study Hard = Success. Read on to get 7 life-transforming tips from years of trial and error.

two secondary students studying in a cafe
You can study smart too!

Table of Content

Is this you? Struggling to study smart?

cartoon of female student trying to study smart in library
cartoon of male student trying to study smart in library

I started to work hard and super super hard at school. For 4-6 hours a day, I forced myself to read through my textbooks even when when I don’t understand most of everything. As though a unicorn vomited rainbows, I highlighted all of my notes and stayed at the library for the whole day to force myself to stay focused. I was trying everything but nothing was working for me.


Next, I worked even harder. I would be reading my textbooks while eating my plate of chicken rice. If I felt sleepy, I would continue reading the textbooks until I fall asleep at my desk, wake up from a sore neck and go back studying.


With each year, my grades would get worse and worse. I was even put into a separate class to improve with the other ‘dumb’ kids. I was embarrassed to tell my old friends and relatives. You could tell all the teachers already gave up on us by the way they spoke with us. You wonder, “how do I study smart?”

Yes, learning is not easy but why? How to study smart?!

cartoon of female student annoyed and unable to study smart in library
cartoon of male student annoyed and unable to study smart in library

No, you are not. Maybe:

1. your school curriculum isn’t rigorous enough

2. your teacher isn’t experienced enough

3. your textbook, notes or study materials aren’t good

4. everyone around you is super smart

5. your handphone or social media is too distracting

6. your computer games is too addictive

7. you don’t have enough time and there are too many subjects to study for

8. you have a bad tutor

There could be a million reasons and things may be working against you. But, are you going to sit around to wait for things to suddenly change somehow someday? Read on to find out how to study smarter.

Study smart #1

Write notes in a completely different way

Why write notes in the first place?

👀 Keeps you awake: note taking forces you to pay attention and focus in class


🧠 Helps you remember: active engagement with the topic helps you understand and better recall the info later on


📖 Keep a record for revision: research has shown that 30 days after your lesson, you will remember 2-3% of the original content – which is perhaps why you feel you are seeing a brand new topic for the first time when you are revising for your exams

example of cornell note taking method to study smart
Cornell note-taking method

How to note take effectively?

  • Choose a format that works for you. There are many methods out there so choose the one you find easiest to start and sustain through
  • Use your own short forms eg write “sub” instead of “substitution” because writing out each word takes far too long.
  • Note down only the important takeaways because you won’t have time to write down everything. You must be able to determine which information is important. It could be concepts which are more likely to be tested or the reason why you got the question wrong.
  • Consolidate all the key concepts and difficult questions into a book for easy revision before exams
And that’s how you study smart!

Study smart #2

Revise repeatedly to remember 10,255 things

graph showing importance of regular revision for easier studying
Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve

🎵 Shopee-pee-pee-pee! Do you find yourself remembering certain TV commercials slogans? Research has shown that repetition works – even big businesses use it. 

How to repeatedly engage with the content and study smarter?

⏳ Study in periods of 41 min: according to this study, the author memorised 10,255 items and recalled 92% of the list by spending 41 minutes each day revising


🔁 Review 4-5 times minimally: according to this study, the perfect schedule is

  • right after the lesson,
  • in the evening,
  • one week later,
  • and one month later


🧪 Find other ways to test or engage with the content. Choose the ones you enjoy the most or the easiest for yourself. For example,

  • Reading the textbook before class
  • Asking questions in class
  • Doing MCQs questions instead of open-ended ones
  • Reciting the content at night before you sleep

Study smart #3

Find your secret study style (and how to do so)

VARK learning styles infographic to understand yourself and study smarter

No, this is not another article explaining the different learning styles. 



Some articles claim there are 3 learning styles. Others claim to have 4 or even 7 types.



Research also debunked the myth that “people learn better when they are taught in a way that matches their preferred style”.


Read on to find out our recommended study style

We just want you to know that you can learn better and study smarter in more than one fixed way.

For example

🏠 Where is the best place to study? Is it your bedroom, the library or the school canteen?

⏲ What is the best time to study? Is it in the morning, noon or night?

🤼 Do you study best alone or with friends?

✍ Do you remember better with handwritten or computer-typed notes?

For all you know, you could be a morning person trying to study at night.


How do you know which style helps you study smarter?

Trial & error! For example, you could take 2 hours to study in the morning, and then another 2 hours each for the noon and night. Then compare which timeslot is the best for you depending on

  • No. of pages of content you revised through
  • Duration you could maintain your focus
  • How difficult it was for you to get started
This is critical to get right for effective studying in a short time

Study smart #4

Be a teacher's pet?! Wait what?

No, we are not asking you to be a teacher’s pet. We are saying “talk to your teachers more”! You are the average of the 3 persons you spend the most time with. So every bit more time with your teachers, you get a little smarter.


As you speak with your teachers more, you will be more comfortable with them and more likely to enjoy their classes. Being close to your teachers also mean you will do your homework and submit in time as you will not want to disappoint your teachers.


Get started by asking or answering your teachers just one question every lesson! 

cartoon of secondary student talking to teacher

Study smart #5

Have fun (yes, really have fun)

Like our failing student at the beginning of our article, you might think studying non-stop for 4-6 hours is the best way to study.


But, research has shown that taking purposeful breaks lasting 5-60 minutes refreshes the mind and recharges your ability to absorb, process and retain new information.

*Note: using social media does not count as a purposeful break (see the research).


To study smarter, sometimes, you have to stop studying.

To succeed in life beyond school, you will also need more than just good grades eg leadership, teamwork and communication skills which cannot be trained by studying alone.


Other than success, there are other things that matter too like your family, interests and health. 


Study smart #6

Clean up your school life

school stationery neatly arranged for students to study smart

If you find yourself pulling out loose papers from your bag or using different notebooks for the same class, you need to know this. Studying smarter is also about making sure you have the right tools and system to set you up for success. 

📄 Organise your documents by subjects eg math vs chinese.

Then into the following piles:

  1. *Sub-topic notes containing key concepts, and tricky questions (this will be your main reference materials to use for exam revision)
  2. Homework (to hand in to teachers)
  3. All other materials


The general principle is: whatever you don’t need, you keep it away. Removing things is more important than you think it is because there’s a limited amount of time and attention you have during your revision week.


📅 Organize your time with a book planner or planning app

  • Write down all your homework and project deadlines
  • Mark down all the test and exam dates

Based on the various deadlines, work backwards to know what you need to revise and by when


🛠️ Organise your tools in a central location

  • pencil, pens, rulers, erasers
  • lined notebooks
  • graph pads
  • calculator
  • oxford math instrument set eg curve ruler, protractors, set squares
  • foolscape

Study smart #7

Discover your REAL reason to work hard

motivational quote to study hard

If you are performing badly in school, it is probably due to a lack of motivation. Perhaps due to

  1. Lack of interest in the content because you do not find the content interesting or relevant to your lives.
  2. Boredom with the teaching methods or the pace of the class
  3. Low self-confidence in yourself feeling that you are not smart enough
  4. Lack of time and energy from an overloaded schedule eg tuition and enrichment
  5. Lack of clear goals because you don’t understand how your studies is relevant to your future (in fact, you don’t even know what you want to do in future)

You might just want to be a TikTok influencer and why would an influencer need to know the probability of drawing a green ball from a bag of 11 balls? True, the contents learnt in Math sometimes seem irrelevant to real life.


But answering math questions trains your logical reasoning by requiring you to define the problem, identify the knowns and unknowns, and taking related steps to solve the problem. You can learn many other skills like acquiring, connecting and applying knowledge. All of which are crucial for success after school life.


If this still doesn’t convince you, your reason to work hard can be as simple as wanting to get your parents to buy you a iPhone or PlayStation5. Figure out why you want to do well and remind yourself the reason especially when it’s tough to get started.


motivational quote to study harder

What worked for the 5 top scorers may not work for you

And that’s fine. Every person has their own way of learning. We hope you can figure yours out and when you do, do share around your best study tips and methods to help others who are struggling.


If you want to get another 9 bonus tips to study more effectively even when you are tired, click here

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