I’m quite conventional when it comes to studying. Chances are, you’ve probably heard of some of these at one point of another. But I’m here to show you how they have worked for me, how some are helpful and others not so much. Detailed post below!
1. Find your motivation.
The first thing you need to do is find motivation. Now I’ll admit, this is the hardest but definitely the most important. It will define your work ethic and as work features so centrally in our lives, your character and purpose in life.
List out your motivations for studying. Think properly about them. Think about the things you value most in life and how they relate to your studies. Though this may be an important part of it, try to think about it beyond just what your parents, school and society expects of you.
And bear in mind, they may change as time passes too. That’s why you need to constantly ask yourself: Why am I studying? And make sure you can answer it clearly and truthfully.
2. Mind over matter
Your brain is like a muscle. It needs to be trained, pushed and honed to function at it’s fullest potential.
Just like those crazy fitness junkies who enjoy the burn / torture exercise. (Blogilates y u do dis?!) They tell you the pain is really all in your mind. 80% of the battle is mental. 20% is the actual effort.
Sitting down to actually do your work is arguably the most arduous first step.
Half the time when we don’t want to start something is because we’re scared of failure. It will happen, so just embrace it and move on. An unfit person will always struggle at first. The decisive factor is whether they continue even when they don’t feel like it.
A lot of this process is conditioning your mind. You must believe that you can do it and will do it in order to actually do it. This can include positive affirmation, reminding yourself of your values and goals,
imagining the process and the results. I had a teacher who told us about a student who would approach his essays with an attitude that he had already finished. This would take off the pressure and the stress he felt initially so he could actually do it.
Therefore, most of my tips below relate to making the first step to sitting down to studying easier and mental conditioning, rather than actual study techniques.
3. Create the space
This is obvious but: find a clean, quiet place to study free of distractions. And then stick with it.
This is part of mentally conditioning your brain to associate one specific place with studying. Don’t play games there, don’t eat eat there, don’t hang out there. Only study there. This is to combat procrastination and distractions. Your brain will eventually cease to seek out things to do other than study once you condition it to think there is nothing to do but study.
Make it an environment you want to be in. Mood is largely dictated by atmosphere. If you wouldn’t want to be in a messy room generally to begin with, you are so not going to study in it.
Here’s my checklist for a solid study environment:
- Good lighting - Poor lighting strains your eyes and makes you sleepy. Natural sunlight, a well lit room or a solid white light lamp are the best.
- Minimum noise - Some people can study with a lot of background noise, I can’t. I try to places with minimum talking or music because it interferes with my concentration.
- Chairs and Table - Find a solid chair with a back. Your back will get tired if study for long periods with nothing to lean on. It is important to also find a chair that is proportionate to your table and body height. Normally if you are sitting up, the edge of your table should line up near your belly button. (Can be hard to find, so don’t be super pedantic unless it’s an adjustable chair.)
- Aesthetically pleasing - I make sure it’s neat and tidy. For the decorative types, motivate yourself by sticking up inspiring pictures and quotes.
You’ll find yourself much more excited to study in this visually appealing
space than usual.
Plan backwards. Start from your goals and work out how you will get there. This will extend from plans on a long term to mid-term basis all the way to daily disciplines.
You’ll find that once you’ve thought about what you need to do and how to get it done, the overall process of studying is less overwhelming.
It’s helpful to brain storm and list out how you will achieve your goals over a year long / semester long basis. Once you’ve got the long term figured out get a diary, a planner, a piece of paper whatever. Plan out your weekly schedule to include your activities, study sessions and rest. This will help you to see if you are on track to achieving your long term plans. To do lists are also helpful in planning what specific tasks you need to complete in a day. Prioritising tasks helps you to not waste time because you always know what you’re supposed to be doing.
An important thing to keep in mind while planning is that ironically, things do not always go to plan. Don’t be disheartened if they do (took me a long time to learn). Make sure you set aside buffer time for distractions, interruptions, things that come up and the spontaneous moments that make up life.
5. Be organised
What’s the difference with planning and being organised? You ask. Well, planning just means knowing what to do, being organised basically means knowing where your stuff is. Like planning, organisation helps reduce the overwhelming feeling that you have no idea what is going on. It gives you a sense of control over your studies.
Firstly, figure out what medium is most helpful to you whether it be computer, paper and pen etc. Create a comprehensive system where you know where all your content goes. Make it a priority to review and reorganise those folders whether digital or paper every week.
Physically organising your information is a way to review your work and also help your brain compartmentalize the information. If you understand the contents’ order and purpose in the syllabus you’ll have greater recall. Furthermore, it saves you all that time trying to organise notes during the week of exams which you could use actually studying.
6. Study in blocks
The key to studying well is not studying more, but studying effectively
I’ve had many people moan to me about how much they study but how little it pays off. That’s because they’re doing it wrong. 12 hours of study in one day does not equate to 12 hours of effective and productive study. (Unless you are a machine.)
This is essentially another aspect of mental conditioning and body hacking. Your brain can only concentrate to its highest capacity for a certain period of time. On average it’s an hour, depending on the individual and the task. After around the one hour mark, your brain begins to wander and it cannot take in as much information. The way around this is to study in timed blocks with timed breaks.
My study blocks are based on the tasks:
- 1.5 hours with 30 minute break- Out put orientated tasks e.g. essay writing
- 45 minutes with 15 minute break - In put orientated e.g. readings
- 30 minutes with 5 minute break - Computer orientated e.g. typing notes
Taking a timed break helps boost concentration by giving your brain a break so it doesn’t feel so tired. Normally breaks should be taken away from your study space doing something different to what you were doing before. It’s best to not to spend your break on Facebook or YouTube, as it interrupts your studying frame of mind. The best things I find to do are: reading, eating, listening to music or talking to people.
7. Create an incentive system
This really relates to the above study block system during breaks but extends to other forms of incentives too.
After completing your required study for the day, treat yourself to something. It can be you get to play a game, watch an episode of Friends, eat a whole chocolate cake as long as it proportionate to the work you’ve done. This way, you’re mentally conditioning yourself to think that study is rewarding.
Other more long term incentives may be a day out, a holiday, a chance to do something you’ve really wanted. Try to think of a creative incentive that motivates you (aside from your academic goals.)
8. Maintain healthy habits
People tend to underestimate this, but your health is the absolute cornerstone of your existence, let alone your academic performance.
You need to get enough sleep. At least 8-9 hours to be functioning at a healthy optimal level. 6-7 hours is just not cutting it. There is countless research out there showing us that inadequate sleep effects you in every way. Therefore, constantly pulling all nighters for assessments will not allow your body to perform optimally for exams. Your recall, concentration and problem solving skills will not function as well as it would after a good nights sleep.
Another key thing is also when you sleep. If you sleep for ten hours from 3am-1pm, chances are you will still not feel very great.
The sleep deficit myth is a trap. You cannot make up for lost sleep by oversleeping on the weekend. Our bodies function best when we follow the patterns of the sun. Of course, in our day and age this is very hard so it’s best to be asleep by 11pm in order to allow your body to get the rest it needs from deep sleep between 1-2am.
Other key things include eating well. Overeating or a poor diet can have direct impacts on your concentration and energy levels. Try eating a massive Maccas meal and see what happens? Food coma.
Staying hydrated is also connected to concentration. A lot of the time that I have headaches is from dehydration. Also constantly sipping water makes you want to go to the toilet which keeps you awake. It’s better than coffee! (Which makes you dehydrated.)
9. Balance out your life
If your life is all about studying, you are very soon going to find it is a miserable and isolating slave driver. Study is a means to help you understand and interact with the world, not the ends of itself.
Remember what you value in life and stick with it. Make as much time as you would for those activities and relationships as you would for study. This will help you to keep perspective as to why you study.
Do not make my mistake or one that I constantly see repeated in many others, to throw my social life, my hobbies and passions at the mercy of study. I reprimand myself for how I neglected people and things that were equally, if not more important to me.
A healthy work life balance is important to your mental and spiritual well being. Many scary stories are told to us law students about lawyers driven to anxiety, depression and even suicide through insane 70 hour work weeks. I myself developed what I considered to be a mild form of anxiety that came and went through my last year of high school through to the first few years of university.
If you are developing some form of mental or physical health issue due to the effects of study, stop. It’s not worth it. Make sure you talk to someone about it, whether it be a friend or even a doctor or counselor. You worth more than your performance.
10. Be intentional with your rest
In light of the last point, you can imagine how important this is. Rest needs to be ingrained into your schedule. Without it, you will soon find yourself burnt out.
I have also come to realise that rest is not just simply being a potatoe and watching netflix and scrolling through my feeds a million times over. Often I find these activities tire me even more and do not motivate me further.
You have to use you time of rest intentionally. Think about what things invigorate you most: that inspire you, challenge you and build up your character. For some it may be spending with family, doing something you love like music, art or volunteer work. For me, it is spending time with God and realising that all of the above that I do is only made possible by Him and for Him. I am reminded that here is why I study, what my goal is and where my identity really lies.
Of course, you always do need some time to be a potatoe and just watch netflix.
Hope my own tips and ideas were helpful and all the best! (: