3 things to do (other than studying) to get better grades

Reaching your academic potential isn't just about putting the hours in with your textbooks. Achievement in any sphere of life also requires downtime and time for reflection.

In this post, I'm going to be talking about 3 things to do (other than studying) to get better grades.

1. Sleep well

Sleep is fundamental to getting better grades. A 2009 study by Walker and van der Helm concluded that:

  1. Having a good night's sleep before learning enables students to create new memory associations more effectively. Basically, your brain is more agile if you've had more sleep meaning it can more quickly and effectively make new neural connections to store what you're learning.
  2. If students don't get enough sleep it suppresses their ability to store what they've learned as memories. If you're not sleeping enough you're depriving your brain of the time it needs to create those neural structures which store knowledge and understanding.
  3. People who haven't had enough sleep are more likely to forget positive memories, dwell on negative memories, feel greater stress and struggle to manage their emotions. This sounds like a pretty mean cocktail to me.

If you're struggling to get a good night's sleep, check out my podcast episode, How to help your teenager to get a good night's sleep, with the CEO of The Children's Sleep Charity, Vicki Dawson.

2. Give yourself thinking time

One of my greatest regrets about my time at school and university is that I never really gave myself thinking time. When I did, it wasn't enough. At school, I literally never stopped to think. I just ploughed on with my studies. At university, I would finish the reading for an essay and barely give myself any time to reflect on what I'd read before I started writing about it. I deprived myself of one of the most fulfilling aspects of learning.

Nowadays, I know my best ideas and my breakthrough understanding comes when I'm not actually ‘working'. I had the idea for my book, The Ten Step Guide to Acing Every Exam You Ever Take, while I was doing the washing up. I came up with the idea for The Extraordinaries Club while I was driving. I go for a daily walk, without listening to music or podcasts, so that my mind has the time and space to come up with new ideas and mull over problems that need to be solved.

If you're really aiming for the top grades do activities that keep your body busy but give your mind time to wander. You'll have better ideas and deepen your understanding if you do this.

3. Spend time in nature

If you're taking a study break, try to spend that time in nature. In a 2008 study, Berman et al found that students who went for a walk in nature during a study break improved their performance on an attention and memory task by 16%. Students who went for a walk in an urban environment did not improve their scores.

The science seems to suggest that walking somewhere soothing is the key here. Walking in an urban environment – where there is lots of stimulation and danger e.g. stopping yourself from getting run over when you cross the road – is not soothing. However, walking in a park or the countryside is.

And, if you don't live near a green space where you can walk, look at pictures of nature instead. A study that compared students who looked at nature photos rather than urban photos found that they:

  • Performed better on memory and attention tests
  • Had improved executive functioning (planning skills)
  • Felt better and more refreshed afterwards

Over to you

What are you going to do first? Start getting a better night's sleep, giving yourself thinking time or taking study breaks in nature? Try it for a week and see how much better you feel and what a difference it makes to your studies.

If you're interested in making further improvements to your studies, join The Extraordinaries Club, my online hub that supports families through the stresses and pressures of the exam years. It enables your child to achieve their potential in a healthy, balanced way without the stress, nagging or worry. Click here to find out more.

I found the studies I've quoted in this article in the book The Science of Learning by Bradley Busch and Edward Watson.

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