If you are looking for ways to improve your grades, Dr. Daniel Amen, author of Change Your Brain, Change Your Grades, provided these 5 tips for study success to our Parent and Teacher Choice Award team at HowtoLearn.com.

Here are the five specific study methods he recommends to increase your chances of success in school:

study methods for success

  1. Preview/review. Previewing and reviewing will tells you where you are going and where you have been—two-thirds of the work.

Getting an overview before you dive into a subject and summarizing what you have learned are the two principles that frame the “big picture.”

If you practice reading the summaries and skimming the material as you begin, you’ll know what to expect during your study session, and you’ll be able to develop a plan for completing your task.

Then, as your study session is nearing its conclusion, take a few minutes to write a short summary of what you have learned. This practice will reinforce your understanding and will provide insight into particular problem areas.

 2. Test making. One of my favorite study methods is making up test questions during and after the study period.

This is highly recommended for both in school tests and other tests such as college entrance exams, such as the SAT or ACT.

By doing this, you learn to pick out the important facts and reinforce what you have studied.

If you write these questions, you will have a good, quick source of review to consult right before an exam. When I studied, I kept a separate piece of paper with my own questions on it (with the answers on the back). I

t often turned out that I would have 30 to 50 percent of the test on those sheets of paper.

If you have questions on the material you are studying, you should also make notes of these and seek clarification from the professor or other sources.

Keeping a record of questions about the material you do not understand is helpful in review, because if you had trouble with the material initially, you will likely need more review to master it.

Creating your own test questions on the material you do not understand will take time and will slow you down initially.

However, this practice will save you time and energy in the long run because you won’t need to read through the textbook or your notes four or five times before you assimilate the material.

  1. Underlining. Underlining (or highlighting) important material in textbooks or notes is a very popular method of study and, if used properly, it can be a valuable tool in your study arsenal. However, this method is often overdone. There was a student in my medical school class who underlined virtually everything in his text or notes—using 14 different colors to denote the degree of importance for the material! Underlining while you study is effective for three reasons:
  • First, it helps you focus on what’s important. If you underline everything, you’re wasting your time. Select the summary sentence of a paragraph, the main fact statements, and important supporting material. Underline what you want to remember and what you think might be on exams.
  • Second, underlining helps you be active. By selecting important statements to underline, you are forcing yourself to take an active role in studying, so you will be less likely to passively read through the material and miss important points. You will instead be interacting with it.
  • Third, underlining helps you review. If you have the pertinent points highlighted, then you can quickly review what you have studied. If you have underlined nothing (or everything), you will have to waste time plodding through all of it to review
  1. Outlining. If it is done concisely and thoughtfully, outlining will re-expose you to the material in a slower, more methodical manner, thus increasing the chance for retention. In addition, as with underlining, you’ll be taking an active role in your studies by deciding what information is important enough to rewrite. It is easy to underline everything in a book, but when you outline, you’ll force yourself to restate only the important material. And finally, outlining provides you with a valuable tool for review when it is time to study for the test. Many students, even after they have underlined their texts, never go back to their books before the exam. They instead rely on their notes and outlines. Outlining is simple. Start by putting the textbook title, lecture title, or major topic at the top of the page. Below that, list the main concepts covered. Label each one with Roman numerals (I, II, III, IV, V). Under those, use numbers or just bullet points to list the most important things you need to remember.

However, there are disadvantages to outlining.

study methods for success

First, this method can be very time-consuming, and if you are very busy, you’ll have trouble doing it consistently. Second, outlining demands a patient individual who can see the value of slowly going through new material. If you’re the type who wants to study as quickly as possible, outlining may not be for you.

If you decide to create outlines, highlight the important facts of new material in a consistent fashion.

Use Mind Maps Instead of Outlining

Mind Maps are a picture of the material you want to recall and instead of outlining they brain research shows that they increase your memory overall. Instead of outlining, they are actually recommended since they fit how your brain actually learns.

Mind maps connect all the information to the main title of the information.

You can start with a circle in the middle of the page, then make spokes going out and add circles with related information all the way around.

Here is an example of a mind map which is used to improve grades.

Put your main chapter heading in the center and around it add related chapters.

Then attached to the chapters add more ideas as spokes coming off each of those.

5: Pretend to be a teacher. Imagine that you’re teaching a class and have to present the information you’ve learned in your own words. Explain the concepts out loud as if you were in front of a room full of students. This is one of the best ways to pinpoint the material you’ve understood and reveal the concepts that need additional review.

In conclusion, realize that you are unique. After you have given each method a fair trial, choose the ones that work best for you.


  • Do your best in the first part of the semester. This will help you establish a solid foundation, build your self-esteem, and leave you some breathing room. Take advantage of “other” materials, including review books, online magazine articles, and old exams. There is more to education than the textbooks.
  • Make the “preludes to methods” part of your study symphony. These include beginning study sessions with a quick review of previous work, studying in defined units, rewording poorly written statements, learning by first understanding, and applying what you learn.
  • Use overview and summary techniques.
  • Create test questions for yourself to check your comprehension and to learn how to choose important facts.
  • Underline to focus, to be active, and to review.
  • Create outlines only if you’re a patient person since it is time consuming.
  • Pretend to be a teacher to gauge how well you’ve understood the material.

 Dr. Daniel Amen was named the most popular psychiatrist in America by The Washington Post and the web’s #1 most influential expert and advocate on mental health by Sharecare.

Dr. Amen is a physician, board-certified child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist, 10-time New York Times bestselling author and international speaker. He is the founder of Amen Clinics and the author or coauthor of more than 70 professional articles, seven book chapters and more than 30 books, including the #1 New York Times bestsellers The Daniel Plan and Change Your Brain, Change Your Life.

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