As a teacher and trainer working with students at different proficiency levels, a common question I get asked is how to best study and prepare for a test in a limited period of time.

What is the 80-20 Rule?

Cramming all the materials in one or two nights before the exam or your important day is never a good idea. On the other hand, constantly spending all your time studying all the materials also doesn’t guarantee success. Unfortunately, life is not always about the more you give the more you get. When it comes to studying and productivity, the more effective approach lies in “less is more”.

Many believe that hard-working and perseverance eventually yield results. However, it is Vifredo Pareto, an Italian engineer, economist and political scientist in the early 1900s, who observed, recorded and proposed a principle that proved less is actually more – the 80-20 rule.

How does It Work?

The 80-20 rule or the Pareto principle claims that 20 percent of the actions lead to 80 percent of the results. Through observation he realised that 80% of the wealth in Italy was controlled by 20% of the population. This principle was also observed in many other fields. For instance:

  • 80% of company’s profits come from 20% of their products.
  • 80% of company’s sales come from 20% of clients.
  • 80% of results are contributed by 20% of employees.
  • 80% of crimes are committed by 20% of criminals.
  • 80% of traffic accidents are caused by 20% of drivers.

The list continues as the principle is broadly applicable to many other situations in our life. 

The 80-20 Rule claims that 20 percent of the actions lead to 80 percent of the results.

The 80-20 Rule and Your Study

Once you understand how to make the small but essential effort worthwhile, it’s time to apply the principle to your study.

Since 20% of what we do contributes to 80% of our results, a small amount of learning is going to account for most of the success. The 80% is just a guideline. When pushing yourself harder, you may surprise yourself with a higher percentage, and vice versa.

Here are our tips on how to apply the 80-20 rule to your study in 5 simple steps.

1. Know Your Goal

You cannot measure your results if you have no idea what you are attempting to achieve. Every journey should start with the destination in mind. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is my goal?
  • What am I looking for?
  • What am I after?
  • Where do I want to be in the next 2 years?

2. Evaluate Your Situation

Let’s say you want to learn a new language. I have met many language learners from an environment where social and physical interaction with native speakers is limited and found that a common mistake lies in practicing. 

Not only do they lack practice with good role models, many pick wrong strategies. Those wishing to speak the language (English in this case) spend more time on social media and online games instead of actually speaking. Those wishing to pass an exam spend more time on a wide range of grammatical rules and vocabulary instead of focusing on the particular skill or topic most relevant to the exam.

When applying the 80-20 rule to your study, it’s necessary to evaluate your current situation with a clear goal in mind. Choose the options that only serve your goals and eliminate those that slow you down by asking the following questions.

  • Which core skills help me quickly achieve my goal?
  • What is the quickest way(s) to accomplish the necessary tasks?
  • What is the shortest route to my destination?
  • Do the tasks I am doing directly contribute to my goals?
  • Do the tasks I am doing introduce an effective shortcut or a detour?
  • Did the tasks give me an extraordinary result and are they worth continuing with?

Choosing the right learning strategies with these questions will save you lots of time by avoiding an unnecessary detour.

3. Be Smart with Your Study

Cramming all the material into the brain is never a good idea when applying 80-20 rule to your study.

Instead of reading and re-reading the whole book, you may create a summary for each chapter. Instead of revisiting the whole material over and over, you can create a checklist for each topic. Make sure you understand them all and use them to strengthen your memory.

4. Practice with Repetition

The knowledge you have learned may be lost over time when you do not regularly recall it.

When revisiting your material, short and frequent studying sessions are better for the brain than long and infrequent ones. 

A well-known studying technique called spaced-repetition is recommended in this case. For more effective practice, remember to plan the time intervals between your study sessions.

5. Recheck and Adjust Your Strategy

After a while, it’s possible that you find some strategies no longer serve or fit with your goal. Make sure you keep them in check.

For example, previously, you may have been able to sit down for 30 minutes before breakfast and read around one chapter with ease. Another 30-minute reading in the evening also gave you an extra chapter. Recently, you may find yourself struggling with even a few pages due to late night activities and distractions. If possible, move your study time to after lunch or before bedtime instead.

Similarly, if you already find yourself confident in a certain skill after some time, consider shifting your effort to another core skill as needed. You shouldn’t spend your valuable time too long on a skill that has become easy and not challenging anymore.

Be flexible with your schedule and your strategies for the most effective learning.

Gamma High IQ Society

The key is to improve your study results and free up your time. When you focus on the goal, determine the right strategies and follow through, you’ll see dramatic improvements in your results.

Always keep in mind that 20% of what you do accounts for 80% of your success. If you are planning to optimise and improve your study, as well as different aspects of life, begin with the end result in mind. Be clear on the goals you want to achieve.  Also, be wise, firm, but flexible with your strategies. 

With the 80-20 rule, you’ll see the ripple effect of small things makes a big difference in your journey.


All rights reserved. Used by Permission of Gamma High IQ Society and DeepGamma.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: