Ten college hacks that have been proven to work

College can be a difficult time for many students, since the style and method of study is often completely different to anything they did at school. Adapting to this new way of working can be stressful, but it needn’t be. Here are just a few college hacks that have been proven to be effective.

college hacks student learning

Please note: not all college hacks are going to work for every student! Try your hand at a couple of the college hacks on offer and see which one works best for you.

College hacks – our top 10

1. Chunking

It’s not as bad as it sounds. It is a simple psychological theory that people have a greater tendency to remember things if they learn them in small, related chunks. It boils down to short- and long-term memory. When trying to take in a string of facts, our brain is only keeping track of the last half-dozen or so. If you have a long list, by the time you reach the bottom, you’ll probably have forgotten what was on the top.

Chunking relies on making connections between some of the items on your list. Instead of your brain trying to retain 30 pieces of information, it is trying to remember five (or six, or seven) chunks of related information, each made up of five or six of the original facts.

2. Exercise

Aside from its physical benefits, which are always worthwhile for any student, exercise has excellent effects on mental cognition. When exercising your body thinks you’re in danger (no, really) and stimulates your sympathetic nervous system to allow for quick thinking. The result of this is a flood of extra blood to the brain, filled with those all-important nutrients and oxygen. This allows your brain to operate more effectively, making connections quicker.

Furthermore, the part of your brain responsible for memory and reasoning – the hippocampus – has been shown to be directly stimulated as a result of exercise, promoting short-term boosts in cognition.

Aside from memory and processing, let’s not forget that exercise is an excellent way to reduce stress, making this among the most health conscious of all the college hacks on this list.

3. Study, then sleep

It seems that study and retention favour the night owl. Notre Dame and Harvard Universities collaborated on a study that showed people remember unrelated pairs of words better if they learn them just prior to sleeping. The theory is nothing new: it has long been suggested that sleep helps us to collate and stabilise our recent memories. Further, the study suggested that students who studied first thing after waking failed to retain as much information, for much the same reason.

4. Chew gum

No, really. We don’t care if your mother calls it a filthy habit. The fine people at Cardiff University conducted a study that shows chewing gum to have a positive impact on long-term concentration. In the tests, students who chewed on gum performed more accurately during longer tasks than those who did not.

5. Fonts

A lot of study is subconscious. The more familiar we are with our study pattern, the more bored our brain becomes, and the more difficult it is to retain information. This is true right down to the fonts we employ for our notes. Research shows that a more difficult font helps your brain keep hold of information better. We’re not saying you need to go crazy and convert your notes to Wingdings or anything like that, but even a slightly off-key font like Comic Sans will do the trick.

6. Change places

Most students have a favourite place to study, be it their dorm room, a certain desk in the library, or an attic office at home. That familiarity can be helpful in itself, but studies have shown that revising the same information in two different places reinforces the learning process. The brain treats this combination of study and location as a new event that needs to be remembered, bolstering the work you already did in your favourite spot.

7. Pen and Paper

We know, it’s like going back to the Stone Age, but hear us out. We’re not saying abandon your laptop or your tablet – for basic facts and figures, they’re ideal. However, when it comes to more in-depth concepts (the “whys” and “hows”, rather than the “whats” and “whens”), you’re better off going longhand. The act of handwriting causes you to slow down your note-taking or your essay-writing, which allows your brain the time to process the information more fully.

8. Water

Hydration is essential if you want to be able to study. Even minor dehydration reduces your ability to perform the most basic of tasks. What’s worse, it severely impacts your brain’s ability to focus and to form memories, which are kind of the point of studying in the first place. Remember to keep yourself regularly topped off with water, rather than tea, coffee, or energy drinks. While many college hacks promote the benefits of a caffeine kick, those beverages also lead to poor hydration.

9. Music

You’ve heard of the notion that classical music can aid concentration, right? Well, that’s only sort of true. While listening to music can help you to concentrate, it only works if its music that you like. Research shows that people who listen to their favourite tunes are able to concentrate for a longer period than those who don’t. So if your musical tastes are more Metallica than Mozart, more Eminem than Elgar, or even more Bieber than Beethoven, you’re in luck. Whatever tunes are currently gracing your playlist, crank them up!

10. Use an OCR reader

OCR (or Optical Character Recognition) technology is a truly innovative study tool. Drawing the pen-shaped reader over your notes converts your writing to text data. From there, you can copy it to a word processor document for your convenience, or play it back as an audio file. This has been shown to improve retention of information as your brain interprets it in two different formats – visually and audibly. Why not take it a step further and have your OCR read your notes back in a second language, with which you’re less familiar? This added layer of concentration will not only help you retain the data at hand but also improve your language skills.


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