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How to study for a difficult subject

Learning a hard topic
Have you been in the situation where you have to study for a subject that you don't like and one that never seems to go well? You might even put off studying until the last day, only to be stressed out and fail the exam anyway: maybe for the Maths exam, you know the theory, but the questions are difficult. Or, you struggle to analyse the texts in your English exam. But instead of wasting your time and stressing, you need to approach things in a structured way. In this article, you will find some useful tips for studying for a subject you have trouble understanding.

Overview and structure

There are different learning strategies for different subjects. For example, in order to learn Maths, it is very important that you do a lot of practice questions in addition to the theory, because it is precisely these types of questions that you will have to solve in the exam. So, take a look at the topics you have covered and see if you have any questions to cover them. If not, head over to evulpo where you can find differentiated exercise sets to get you started!

It’s really important that you make a plan of how you are going to approach the material. Don't try to cover too many things at once, you’ll stay more motivated with smaller topics and you’re more likely to remember what you’ve learnt. You’ll also feel less overwhelmed if you know exactly what you are going to do on any given day.

For subjects like biology or history, you often have to read a lot. But before you start reading, try to get a general idea of the subject first! Read the titles and chapters and try to figure out what it's all about. Again, don't do it all at once, but take a topic each day.

For languages, it’s very important to know the vocabulary, so you will be able to speak and write much faster! Look at what you've covered and divide the words up: learning a few words each day for a week is far more manageable than learning everything in one day! Plus, the words stay in your memory much longer. To check if you've really understood everything, try making a sentence for each word.

Understanding the content

Now that you have an overview of the questions you want to do, it's time to get down to business: practicing. Solve the simple tasks first, even if you think you've already mastered them. This will help you work towards solving more difficult exercises so it won’t feel like you’ve been thrown into the deep end! If something doesn't work, ask your friends, ask a teacher or look it up on the internet. They may even help you approach the theory in a different way.

If you need to review biology or history, you can start by reading the texts. Use a highlighter to highlight important information. It can also be helpful to make a note in the margin of the text for each paragraph, so you can quickly find the information. So that you don't forget what you've read right away, write short summaries. If you find it easier to visualise information, draw a mind map. This way you can connect new things to things you already know. Sometimes it’s also helpful to make lists or use mnemonics to make difficult terms or concepts simpler.

Flashcards are a good tactic for language learning. For example, you can study on a bus ride or in your garden and change your learning environment or ask someone to help you with questions. This is how you master vocabulary learning! And even if it's hard at first: try reading a book in another language. You'll find that you don't need to understand every word to understand a book in a foreign language. You can understand a lot through context!

If you need more help with structuring or learning methods, try the Pomodoro or SCL method or think about what kind of learner you are to make learning as effective as possible. You will find more articles on the blog that explain these methods and learning aids.

Take breaks

Your brain can only handle so much without breaks! It needs to be calm and relaxed in order to process what it has learnt. The best thing to do is to get some fresh air and take a walk or lie down for a while. Avoid using your phone, otherwise you will only distract yourself and your brain will be overloaded with new information and won't be able to take it all in.


The most important thing is to review. Reread your summary, practice with the flashcards or try to explain the material to yourself, so you can identify anything that you haven’t quite understood. Spread out your time and don't do everything at once, but spend a few hours each day reviewing. This way, the information will stay in your memory much longer!

Other tips

If you find out in class that you don't understand something, ask your teacher directly! If you find out the day before the exam that you have a particular problem with a topic, it's too late. So start studying early enough to have enough time if something goes wrong and you need help.

If you find that you still can't do it, ask your friends or parents for help. There are also many online platforms that offer exercises and summaries. If you can't do it this way either, consider getting a tutor. Admitting that you need help is a positive thing and you are showing that you are motivated to give it your all!

And finally, don't lose hope and don't forget to celebrate your successes, no matter how small! Stay positive and always keep your goals in mind!
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