We all have our own study and work habits that we rely on for every major test, project, or assignment. However, just because we’ve internalized those habits doesn’t necessarily mean they’re as effective as we might like to think. If your GPA, social life, sleep schedule, or health is suffering, your study habits may be the culprit. HC is here to help you realize which habits you should toss or tweak into better, more effective ones so you can get that ‘A’ you deserve (without pulling so many all-nighters that you zonk out in class and start drooling on the guy next to you—not a good look).
1. Cramming for a test
We already know that cramming the night before an exam is not the ideal way to go about studying, yet so many of us collegiettes continue to make a habit of it and are confident that it will pay off. While you might actually end up with a fine grade on an exam that you crammed for, shoving weeks’ worth of information into your brain in such a short span of time is not conducive to actually remembering the material in the future.
Grace Fleming, the student success coordinator at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Georgia and a former college admissions counselor, says that when asked about the most ineffective study habits, “cramming is the first thing that comes to mind. There’s a difference between remembering and learning, and cramming might lead to remembering material a day later, but it doesn’t lead to learning at all. There are scientific studies to show that real learning comes from the process of revisiting material repeatedly.” So regardless of the grade you get on the exam you cram for, you won’t remember the material when it comes time for the final or when you need to apply it in future higher-level courses.
And if that’s not enough to deter you from cramming, consider the effect that cramming has on your stress levels: “Students who are constantly playing catch-up and cramming at the last minute also experience more stress, and that leads to burnout,” Fleming says.
So instead of disadvantaging yourself by cramming, try this approach: briefly review class concepts and materials every week to ensure that you are understanding and remembering the information. When it comes time for an exam, spread your studying out over several days so that you aren’t scrambling to learn it all in one night. “The best process is study, take a break for a day, then study again. That is the only way to study so that you actually retain and learn,” Fleming says.
Our generation has mastered the art of Facebook chatting, tweeting, texting, watching TV, and eating dinner all at the same time, so you may sometimes mistakenly think that you can add homework to the mix. But by dividing your attention amongst so many different tasks, either the quality of your work or your efficiency is bound to suffer. HC contributing writer Katie, a senior at Western Michigan University, says that doing homework while watching TV “seems like a win-win situation in the beginning, but it always makes homework take a really long time.” She now realizes that “it is best to just turn the TV off and do homework… it makes for much less of a distraction.”
So instead of spending two hours to write one sentence of your paper because you keep stopping to look at pictures of cute puppies on Pinterest (not that we blame you), turn off the distractions around you and focus solely on your work. Make a deal with yourself that you’ll finish all your work before watching the latest episode of Revenge, so that you’ll be more motivated to get your work done and will have something to look forward to while doing it.
If your social media addiction is too strong to fight on your own, there are applications on your computer that you can use to help you stay focused. Harvard senior and HC Her Story Editor Kema recommends using the “focus view” function on word docs (click view, then “focus” or “full screen,” and it will put your document in full screen and hide all toolbars that don’t pertain to editing). “That way you'll be less likely to try and go from window to window on your screen,” she says. “It also helps me to remember concepts a lot better when I recopy some of my notes by hand.” Other applications, such as SelfControl let you block yourself out of certain websites for a specified period of time.
Need more motivation to get unplugged while studying? Check out what Hannah Orenstein, HC High School Editor, experienced when she went on a 24-hour social media diet.
3. Choosing the wrong environment
Just as Facebook and TV can be distracting, studying somewhere that is not conducive to focusing on your work can be counterproductive as well. Considering that everyone has different preferences, there is no one “right” place to study—but once you recognize what conditions work best for you, find an ideal place on campus that meets that criteria so that you always have a place to go to be productive. Studies show that repeatedly studying in the same ideal spot can enhance learning; according to the Penn State York Nittany Success Center, “when you study in the same place every time, you become conditioned to study there. Your mind will automatically kick into gear, even when you don't feel like studying.”
Just make sure you choose a spot that meets your study needs. If you realize that you just end up falling asleep whenever you try to read in bed, don’t try to convince yourself that this night will be different; instead, hit up a study lounge and get your work done there. If utter silence stifles your creativity, try writing that essay in a coffee shop instead of the library. Even if it means walking a bit to get to that location or going somewhere different than your friends for a few hours, catering to your own preferences will ensure that you’re as productive as possible.