The 80/20 Rule: Less Studying but Higher Grades

80/20 rule's coffee cup

Can you remember a time when you put a lot of effort into studying and cramming all the materials you can into your head, only to have it fall flat in the end? We all can, and it feels incredibly frustrating and inefficient.

But what if I can tell you that you can spend less time studying and still get higher grades? Sounds too good to be true? Get ready to be pleasantly surprised then. The secret that can help you achieve that is the Pareto Principle or as commonly known : the 80/20 rule.

Now, who is Pareto? And how can a rule help with our productivity? Let’s take it one step at a time :

Portrait of Vifredo Pareto -
Portrait of Vifredo Pareto

The origin of the 80/20 rule:

Vifredo Pareto was an Italian engineer, economist, and political scientist in the early 1900s. He was the first known person to observe and record that 80% of the wealth in Italy was controlled by 20% of the population, from which he then noticed that in many aspects of life, 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes and vice versa.
This discovery will soon become famously known as the Pareto Principle or The 80/20 rule and through its universal application to many situations, people were able to optimize and improve different aspects of their lives.

How is the 80/20 rule applicable in your student life?

Representation of the 80:20 rule or Pareto principle -
Representation of the 80:20 rule – the Pareto principle

Let me first explain this further: Using the 80/20 rule can help you divide the causes and effects of your whole life, and your life as a student is just one aspect; The 20% represents the causes or inputs, and the 80% represents the effects or the outputs and adversely 80% of the causes or inputs result in 20% of the effects or outputs. So what you have to do here is trying to find the 20% of inputs, focus on it, and optimize it.

Look at it this way : 20% of the efforts and time you put into studying results in 80% of your exam success. Shocking, isn’t it? But it’s the truth, and not knowing about it can put you at a risk of focusing on the wrong things and wasting a lot of resources that could be spent on other more productive things in your life.

Other examples of the 80/20 rule in education and other situations:

  • 20% of what you learned in class covers 80% of your exam content.
  • 80% of the time you spend studying goes to 20% of the materials you’re studying.
  • 80% of your teacher’s attention is spent on 20% of the students in his class.
  • 20% of the world’s criminals commits 80% of crimes.
  • 20% of the world’s drivers causes 80% of all traffic accidents.
  • 80% of air pollution originates from 20% of all factories.
  • 20% of a company’s products represents 80% of sales.
  • 20% of a company’s employees are responsible for 80% of the results.

I’m pretty sure you get the gist of it by now, but understanding a concept and knowing how to apply it are two different things. So next, we’ll have some tips and techniques that can help you optimize and better manage your time and efforts.

How to optimize the 20% that counts :

The main point of applying the 80/20 rule to your student life is obviously so that you’ll be able to make the most of the 20% of your time that will produce the 80% of the results. To help you in this noble endeavor, we have created a set of steps that to bring out your maximum study potential:

Step 1: Make a list of 10 things you do for studying

It could be reading your material over and over again, using a productivity tool like the Pomodoro technique, taking notes and highlighting keywords, …etc.
The point is, we all have different habits while studying. So for the first step, think back and make a list of the 10 things that you usually do to study
NB : If you don’t think you have that much methods of studying, outsource them and appropriate them. Try to learn more methods; you may find one that’s tailored to your needs.

Step 2: Analyze, compare, and rank

Is your list from step 1 ready?
It’s time to analyze it to find what items give you the best returns.
Analyze and compare each of the items in terms of ease of use, time consumed, and the studying results;
Do you feel that method #1 gives more understanding of the material and spends less time? Note it down.
Does method #3 use far too much time? Note it too.
Now that you’ve analyzed and compared your methods, rank them according to which method gives you the best results in less time.
With this analysis, you’ll have a much clearer view of what’s truly best for studying.

Step 3: Circle the best two

Now that you have the whole list divided by criteria based on your own choices and judgement, it’s time to choose the best two methods in that list that truly drives the results.
Now that you have your best two methods, it’s time to abandon the other eight methods.
Focus only on the two methods chosen and use them continuously; this will help you learn faster in a much shorter span of time than what you’ll otherwise need for other methods.
These methods represent the 20% studying that makes up 80% of results.

With this, you now have a way to use the 80/20 rule for your student life, a rule that you can also optimize for your other aspects of life. Remember that the Pareto principle is applied to all areas of life, so it’s possible to use these tips for work or just life in general.

Last thing worth noting is that this method only results in 80% of the results. If you want a perfect result then you have to do much more than just the 20% of efforts.

For further tips and pieces of advice, make sure to check out our discussion forums, a whole community is waiting for your questions on the different topics we cover!

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