Effective study habits -- studying smarter -- can be learned to improve your ability to better retain reading material. These habits include approaching study with the right attitude, choosing the right environment, minimizing distractions, setting a realistic schedule, and employing memory games, among others.
7. Make a schedule you can stick to.
Too many people treat studying as the thing to do when you get around to it or have some spare time. But if you schedule study time just as your class time is scheduled, you’ll find it becomes much less of a hassle in the long run. Instead of last-minute cramming sessions, you’ll be better prepared because you haven’t put off all the studying into one 12-hour marathon. Spending 30 or 60 minutes every day you have a class studying for that class before or after is a lot easier and will allow you to actually learn more of the material.
You should study regularly throughout the semester for as many classes as you can. Some people study every day, others put it off to once or twice a week. The frequency isn’t as important as actually studying on a regular basis. Even if you just crack open a book once a week for a class, it’s better than waiting until the first exam in a massive cram session.
Scheduling is even more important if you’re going to be a part of a study group. If only half of your members are committed to a study group for every meeting, then you need to find other study group members who are as committed as you are.
8. Take breaks (and rewards!).
Because so many people view studying as a chore or task, it’s human nature to avoid it. If, however, you find rewards to help reinforce what you’re doing, you may be pleasantly surprised by the change you may find in your attitude over time.
Rewards start by chunking study time into manageable components. Studying for 4 hours at a time with no breaks is not realistic or fun for most people. Studying for 1 hour, and then taking a 5 minute break and grabbing a snack is usually more sustainable and enjoyable. Divide study time into segments that make sense and work for you. If you have to digest a whole textbook chapter, find sections in the chapter and commit to reading and taking notes on one section at a time. Maybe you only do one section in a sitting, maybe you do two. Find the limits that seem to work for you.
If you succeed in your goals (such as doing two sections of a chapter in one sitting), give yourself a real reward. Perhaps it’s saying, “I’ll treat myself to some good dessert tonight at dinner,” or “I can buy a new tune online,” or “I can spend an extra 30 minutes gaming for every 2 sections of a book chapter I read.” The point is to find a reward that is small but real, and to stick to it. Some may view this as absurd, since you’re setting limits you can easily ignore. But by setting these limits on your behavior, you’re actually teaching yourself discipline, which will be a handy skill to have throughout life.
9. Keep healthy & balanced.
It’s hard to live a balanced life while in school, I know. But the more balance you seek out in your life, the easier every component in your life becomes. If you spend all of your time focusing on a relationship or a game, you can see how easy it is to be out of balance. When you’re out of balance, the things you’re not focusing on – such as studying – become that much harder. Don’t spend all of your time studying – have friends, keep in touch with your family, and find interests outside of school that you can pursue and enjoy.
Finding balance isn’t really something that can be taught, it’s something that comes with experience and simply living. But you can work to try and keep your health and body balanced, by doing what you already know – exercise regularly and eat right. There are no shortcuts to health. Vitamins and herbs might help you in the short-term, but they’re not substitute for real, regular meals and a dose of exercise every now and again (walking to class is a start, but only if you’re spending an hour or two a day doing it).
Look at vitamins and herbs as they are intended — as supplements to your regular, healthy diet. Common herbs — such as ginkgo, ginseng, and gotu kola — may help you enhance mental abilities, including concentration, aptitude, behavior, alertness and even intelligence. But they may not, either, and you shouldn’t rely on them instead of studying regularly.
10. Know what the expectations are for the class.
Different professors and teachers have different expectations from their students. While taking good notes and listening in class (and attending as many of the classes as you can) are good starts, you can do one better by spending some time with the instructor or professor’s assistant. Talking to the instructor early on – especially if you foresee a difficult course ahead – will help you understand the course requirements and the professor’s expectations. Maybe most students in the class are expected to get a “C” because the material is so difficult; knowing that ahead of time helps set your expectations, too.
Pay attention in class. If the instructor writes something on the whiteboard or displays it on the screen, it’s important. But if they say something, that’s important too. Copy these things down as they’re presented, but don’t zone out completely from what the instructor is also saying. Some students focus on the written materials without regard for what the instructor is saying. If you write down only one aspect of the professor’s instructions (e.g., just what they write down), you’re probably missing about half the class.
If you get a particularly bad grade on a paper or exam, talk to the instructor. Try and understand where things went wrong, and what you can do in the future to help reduce it from happening again.
Don’t forget to learn!
Studying isn’t just about passing an exam, as most students look at it as. Studying is an effort to actually learn things, some of which you might actually care about. So while you’ll have to take your share of classes that have little or nothing to do with your interests, you should still look for interesting things to take away from every experience.
By the time you’ll realize what a great opportunity school is, you’ll be well into the middle of your life with a lot of responsibilities — children, mortgages, career pressures, etc. Then most people have neither the time nor energy to go back to school. So take the time to learn some stuff now, because you’ll appreciate the opportunity later on.