How to Master the Study Cycle and Improve Your Learning

How to Master the Study Cycle and Improve Your Learning

“Ms. P, if a teacher is good enough, their students will just learn. The teacher will teach and the students will just remember it all. Kids won’t have to write anything down or study or anything.”

I will never forget the (misguided) young man who said this to me. I almost laughed in his face. He clearly had no idea how we learn. Admittedly, he and I had a testy relationship. He was implying that I wasn’t a good enough teacher because he had to work in my class. But, he also legitimately believed this. Ugh.

While we all wish we could learn through osmosis, learning just doesn’t work that way. Our brains can only hold small amounts of information in our working memory. If we do nothing with the new information, it will just disappear.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”If we do nothing with new information, it just – poof! – disappears from our brains.” quote=”If we do nothing with new information, it just – poof! – disappears from our brains”]

Instead, if we review and interact with new information, the brain will move it to long-term memory.  Taking notes and then rereading those notes 1 night before the test just doesn’t cut it.  Instead, we must take notes, in class, review those notes, and study to learn.

Study Smarter online course

Though I think most of us understand this, we don’t realize just how active we need to be in our own educations. I recently came across the concept of the study cycle from the UNC-Chapel Hill Learning Center and I think it helps show how active students need to be. I wish I had the study cycle a few years ago to show my student 🙂

How the Study Cycle Can Boost Your Learning

study cycle


Do the assigned reading or skim the topic in your textbook. If the teacher provides notes beforehand, read them over. The idea is to come into class “warm” – you already know some basic information about the topic.

Did you have velcro sneakers as a kid? Remember how the two sides stick to each other? That’s kind of how your brain works. You “stick” new information to your long-term memory by connecting it to something already there. The new information sticks to the prior knowledge and stays around. By previewing information ahead of time, you are creating that velcro; the new information you learn in class can attach to something you already know.

Engage in class

Most students know this step, but don’t always do it. Pay attention in class, take notes, and ask questions! If you have problems staying focused (don’t we all!), try a rubber band on your wrist. Give it the rubber band a quick snap when you notice yourself wandering. If it’s permitted, get up and walk around in the back of the room. And for the love, keep your phone out of sight!

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Your phone is the #1 distraction. Put it on silent and keep it in your bag.” quote=”Your phone is the #1 distraction. Put it on silent and keep it in your bag.”]

If you can pay attention, you will obviously hear the information and be able to take notes. The other perk comes from all the verbal and non-verbal cues teachers give about the importance of certain concepts or ideas. Listen for repetitive phrases or changes in volume and look for writing on the board or pointing! All these are signs that the point they are making is super important!


Take the time that day to review your notes from class. Did you know that if you review your notes within 24 hours of taking them, you are 60% more likely to remember the information?? Read your notes again, make changes to them, highlight, summarize, and ask questions. This process only takes about 10 minutes, but it will really pay off when it comes time for a quiz or test.

taking notes
Photo by Lonely Planet on Unsplash

If you don’t understand your notes or the concepts, it’s time to talk to another student or the teacher.


Studying is different than just reviewing notes. It might include working with other people as part of a study group, writing your own study guide, creating a mnemonic device, or using flashcards. Also, study sessions should be spread out over time and not crammed into the 2 nights before a test. So, plan out your studying, especially the week or 2 before a test.

For more on studying, check out these posts:


This is the step skip and get super frustrated. Check in with yourself. How well do you understand the content in class? Is that level of understanding showing up on assessments? Are your current study strategies getting the results you want? If not, it’s time to find new strategies! Too many kids use the same strategies over and over even though those strategies clearly aren’t working for them!

Study Smarter online course

Most kids want to do well, but just don’t know how. Learning about the study cycle is something they need to see and learn, so share this with your kids and students!

Which step in the study cycle do you need to spend the most time on? Let me know in the comments below!

Related Posts: Why Retrieval Practice will Improve Learning, What People Get Wrong About StudyingLearn How to Improve Your Study Skills, Take Notes Like a Pro, Why Rereading the Textbook is a Waste of Time

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