How Pareto’s Principle Can Help You Study Better

This month, we’re diving into Pareto’s Principle (also known as the 80/20 rule) to help you find the best way to study so you can learn more and do better on exams and assessments. 

An idea is born

Pareto’s Principle comes from Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist who, in the late 1800s famously observed that 80% of Italy’s land was owned by 20% of the population. This was a groundbreaking realization and was later understood to apply to many aspects of life. The underlying principle is that 20% of causes lead to 80% of effects. 

Think like an economist 

So how does this pertain to your study habits? Think about this: if 80% of a class’s exam material comes from 20% of its lectures, then watching a lecture over and over to make sure you memorize exactly what was said, or trying to write down everything a professor conveys in a class meeting is probably a waste of your time and effort. Multiply that by four or five classes, and you won’t have much time for anything else. What’s more, if you’re finding you’re spending an inordinate amount of time studying and not seeing the results you are hoping for, it’s time to make a change. The 80/20 rule might be a solution. 

Find what works for you

Try and figure out what the most important ideas or takeaways are for each of your classes and make sure that your study habits are supporting those ideas. A study technique that works for your algebra class may not be the same one you choose for English, so play around with a few and see what works for you. 

Then, start applying the 80/20 rule. It may be hard to accept that doing less may actually help you learn and understand more, but if done correctly, it may help your study habits become much more efficient and you might even find yourself understanding and learning more overall. 

Less is more…most of the time

Let’s be clear though: we’re not saying to only do 20% of the work required for a course. Just make sure that you’re focusing on about 20% of the content that you think will be on a test, or that your teacher or professor wants you to understand well. Pay attention to your teacher’s cues! Material that they spend more time on, or make mention of being on a test, should ignite a lightbulb in your brain. Make note of those moments so you know what to focus on when the time comes to study for a test. Once you start cueing into the way your teacher presents their lessons and the material they highlight during lectures or class time, you’ll find that studying smarter and applying the 80/20 rule may be an easier task than you think.

Next month…

We’ll be focusing on how and why sleep makes a difference in your study habits! 


Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning

The 80/20 Principle