Study Habits Part 2: Effective Studying

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In “Study Habits Part 1: Being Proactive,” we took a broad look at a variety of lifestyle choices that will prep you for the most effective study sessions. But now we are going to take a closer look at ideas and suggestions that will help you get the most out of your actual study time. For me personally, I did not feel prepared leaving high school to study at the college level. Then I found out the jump from high school to college for most people is drastic. Going from having the same classes every day to only meeting with your professors 2 or 3 times a week can be a difficult change. The way I see it, in high school teachers feed you information every day in class then review all the information again right before a test. However, in college professors give you 3 thanksgiving size meals of facts and important information a few days a week and expect you to grasp the main concepts and know each topic well enough to be tested by the time the exam comes around. Knowing how to set yourself up for a meaningful study session is key to keeping your head above all the information being pummeled at you by all your professors.

Study a Little Each Day- A trap many college students fall into is thinking they can just study a week or so before each class test and be fine. Wrong! This will come back to haunt you when you are trying to cram a months’ worth of information into just a few nights of studying. If students spread out their work and read a few pages each day, they will have a month’s worth of knowledge securely in their minds, opposed to a stressful night of ineffective attempts to cram the same information into their brains right before an exam.

Do What’s Toughest First– For those of you who like to check the easy things off your to-do list first, this is a tough one. However, by tackling the most difficult tasks first, you are allowing yourself to complete the most important things while your brain is still fresh and well-rested. This is much better than waiting until midnight to start all the vigorous, time-consuming work you put off all day when you are tired and now won’t be able to give it your best effort. So save the easy stuff for later, get the hard assignments out of the way and off your mind.

Start Early- Many students come to college believing the only time they can do homework and study is at night. Before college my dad told me, “Treat collage like an 8am-5pm job.” This means getting all your work and studying done during the day instead of wasting time or sleeping in.  This way at night you can relax and do what you please, knowing all your class work is complete. Typically students will have a few classes back to back and then have the entire afternoon off; utilize this time to get your work done. Not only are you more awake, but you are also using your time wisely.

Find Your Study Spot- When learning how to develop good study habits, a useful trick I found is figuring out what setting works best for me. Normally studying on your comfy bed under the blankets is not ideal because your mind associates it with sleep and relaxation, not work. For most people, finding a spot at a desk or in the library works best for serious studying. Some students prefer to be near a window or at their own desk and in their own space. Whatever it may be, find what works for you. Often going to the library with your 3 best friends is not going to be productive. It’s important to find your focus zone so that you can accomplish the most with the time you have. For some students this might be at a coffee shop or outside, while for others this might mean being by yourself. An important aspect you should consider when trying to find your ideal study spot is lighting that keeps you awake and alert without causing  eye strain, headaches, or any other problems.

Take Breaks- When I first came to college and was trying to figure out how to study, I fell into the trap of never taking breaks. I would try and work for a few hours at a time, but by the second or third hour, I was getting nothing accomplished. After reading some articles, I learned the importance of working only for a stretch of 45 to 50 minutes followed by a 10 to 15 minute break. This will make all the difference when you are trying to get hours of work done. Do not try and sit in the same seat for 3 straight hours; you will go crazy! Instead work for 45 to 50 minutes and then walk around, use the bathroom, eat something, or whatever you need in order to give your mind a mental break.

Know Yourself and Know Your Body- Bring something to snack on if you know you will get hungry, otherwise all your focus will shift to your stomach and away from your paper or textbook. For example, granola bars or an apple with peanut butter not only taste good, but also have nutritional value and will give you a boost of energy. Another good trick to try is to have headphones with you and play light music in the background to help you tune out any distractions. Several free online radio stations are available that have a variety of study music stations.  For example, Pandora has a station called ‘Explosions in the Sky,’ which just plays instrumental music. Stations like this help you stay relaxed and better focus on the task at hand. Everyone has different preferences, and learning what helps you concentrate best is one of the most important things in understanding how you study the most effectively.

Other Useful Tips- When studying, it is best to always be prepared. Be sure to come with everything you need: flash cards, highlighters, pens, pencils, and any other items you feel would be beneficial. Also, it is a good idea to reward yourself in some way: food, a coffee break, anything to help you accomplish your assignments. Try setting an alarm after 50 minutes of studying to ensure you take those necessary mental breaks. However, avoid texting or other social media sites when you are trying to study. Not only do these things distract you, but you will spend far more time than planned browsing around. Ways to avoid such temptations are to turn your cell phone off or only allow yourself on these sites once all your work is complete. It is just practicing mind over matter, and if you are successful, you will have mastered the art of effective studying.