Many students ask themselves every day if they could find a way to study smarter? SMART has a direct meaning of “Intelligent” which means good at learning, understanding, and thinking. Clearly, smart learning is something every student should aim for. The problem is: How to study smarter? Fortunately, someone created the acronym S.M.A.R.T that provides clues on how to study smart. It is mainly used in coaching, but we can apply it to students. It is usually applied to a goal. Let’s dive into what each letter stands for, and how to apply it when you study. There are several authors that have adapted one or two letters and have chosen different sets of words, so we are going to expand as much as possible and embrace all the relevant alternatives each letter provides. Before we dive into details, if you want to know who we are and why we care about your success please see here.
S stands for SPECIFIC, but also for Situational.
Before you start doing any reading or begin writing a paper, it is important to define what is the outcome that you are looking for. For example, you will not read in the same way, nor will it take the same amount of time, depending on if you read to know what a particular text is about, or if you are looking to discover the three main ideas, or if you are proofreading, or even if you want to find the evidence for defending a point. While we all know instinctively what we want to achieve, it is wise to ask the question and answer clearly and SPECIFICALLY what do you want to get from a particular activity. The Situational part also applies very well. The goal will not be the same when you read a text for the first time, or when you are studying the day before the exam. Reading for pleasure is not the same as reading for homework.
M stands for MEASURABLE but also for Motivated
This is one of the most complex aspects. Sometimes it is hard to measure learning, however, there is always a MEASURE or a proxy that can help and guide you to focus and MOTIVATE you to reach a certain level. The measure can be the number of pages read, the number of words written, the number of problems solved, percentage of completion, or minutes devoted (more about time later). The more specific the measure the more it will help you.
I remember a student that was “studying”, and he had 4 pages to review before the exam. After 1 hour he had only gone through half the first page. Once I made him realize that he had 2 more hours to finish the preparation he quickly realized that he was going too slowly. This is what MEASURE is all about. It enables you to track progress and adjust when needed. Measure and particularly tracking improvement can be motivating. There are other aspects that might motivate (more about this later) however, seeing progress can be very motivating. We suggest that you use a calendar, agenda or organizer to track all your progress.
A stands for ACHIEVABLE, but also Attainable
Before starting anything, it is wise to reflect on your capabilities to finish what you started. This is tricky. If you set a goal for your study that is too easy that you can do with no effort, then it won’t be a learning experience. If you set your goal too high, then you give up as you will find yourself unable to ACHIEVE it. This is a balancing game. The goal has to be complex enough that it requires a reasonable level of effort to ACHIEVE.
Do not despair if you sometimes fail, this is a learning process. The most important part of this is to distinguish the reason for that failure. Was your goal out of reach? Or you didn’t put in enough effort to ATTAIN it? The answer to this question will determine what to do next time. Having an achievable goal helps you fight procrastination. One of the causes of procrastination is that nobody is willing to put the effort if they feel that they will fail. So a fundamental part of any good study habit is defining where you want to be given the effort you can (or are willing) to do.
R stands for RELEVANT, but also for Resources or Review.
We all have gone through a big effort, and then, when we reach our goal, a thought comes to our mind: “was it worth doing?”. When we work for things that matter to us, that are RELEVANT to our heart, then we do not spare any effort. This is the key to this letter. You have to be truthful to yourself, look into your heart, and find what you value the most. You can ask for help, but no one can substitute you in this endeavor. The other meanings assigned to this letter R are also important.
Before you start doing anything it is fundamental to set all the required material to perform the task. Having the RESOURCES preparing for success, but also wisely employing your time. There is nothing more frustrating than not having all that you need to work. If you have to stand up, to look for a word in the dictionary, then you lose valuable time, but most importantly you get completely distracted. There are many different RESOURCES students need. There are books, or other providers of content (Apps and other internet based products), there are paper, rulers, pens & pencils, a computer, calculator, or a calendar. Be sure to have all that you need before you start studying.
There is no perfect plan. Nobody has ever accomplished anything valuable without some level of adaptation (this could be also in letter A). The need to REVIEW your progress (taking into account what you decided to Measure) and adapting for needed changes is paramount. Life has many unexpected events that tend to derail our plans. You might even discover that the plan you had set was wrong from the start, reviewing and correcting the path is then needed. To REVIEW, we need to have a plan. There are all kinds of planners in the market, some are paper based others are app based. No matter what you prefer we recommend that you have a study planner. The only way to REVIEW is to measure your progress against this plan.
T stands for TIME-BASED
Time is one of the most challenging concepts to us all. TIME-BASED means two things. First, any activity you do, particularly those worth doing, will require your TIME. Second, you will have to deliver at a defined TIMELINE. Balancing both concepts is one of the most complex things for humankind. We have a post that better describes the nature of time and it points to many time management techniques that might help you, with a description on how to apply these concepts as a student. It covers from high school to college and beyond. We strongly recommend reflecting on the amount of time required to accomplish a specific task. If you have perused the different time management techniques mentioned above, you will understand that is the first block to building any time management strategy.
Is there an app that can teach you how to study SMARTer?
The quick answer is yes. There are many alternatives that can help you in different ways. We, at Task & Time, based on the experience of the two founders as teachers and consultants, decided to create STUDEAM with all the knowledge and wisdom gathered throughout the years helping students like you. STUDEAM is a study planner for students that helps to keep track of Specific tasks that are Relevant and Achievable in a defined period of Time. We help in the Review process and provide some guidance to Measure your progress. Basically, you need to define your time frame for studying, then set every task that you have to accomplish with an estimate of the amount of time you want to devote. Finally, press a button and you will have a customized calendar for you to start working. At the end of the day you can update your progress. To see how to use STUDEAM please see this DEMO Video