We’ve all been there; it’s 10 PM with a big test the next day, you’re sitting reading the same page from your teacher’s lecture notes for what must be the third time and yet, you’re thinking to yourself, “... I have no idea what I just read.” Or maybe you’ve got your flashcards out thinking, “I don’t know if this ACTUALLY helps me.” And the library study dates where we sit refreshing our social media feed? Believe me, they’re prevalent. Whether you’re a freshman just starting your first year in the “real world,” or you’re a jaded senior who just wants to make it through to graduation, we all could use a boost when it comes to our study skills and the habits we have. While everyone studies differently, here are a couple of helpful hints that could aid you in your studies:
TIMING: Let’s take a minute and think about when we’re actually studying, because that can make a world of a difference.
Do Study Ahead.
Getting the leg up on an upcoming lecture can be paramount to performing well in the class. Often, teachers expect students to read over lecture materials BEFORE the lecture so you can come in with some questions about what you don’t understand. We all (secretly) know that our nights are spent catching up more often than not, though, and that’s the hustle of college. But, even just reading about what that next lecture is on can give you a better understanding of the conversation and allow you to form a couple of questions, or at least follow along with what’s happening in class.
Don’t Study When Your Brain isn’t Listening.
This might sound like a no-brainer (haha), but there are thousands of posts and studies on whether it is better to study at night or in the morning. I don’t argue for one over the other. My advice is that you study when your brain actually is going to listen to the information you’re giving it. My brain operates much quicker in the morning than late at night. I could sit in front of the same page for five minutes and not get a single line processed if it’s 11:00 PM compared to flying through a chapter in the span of a half-hour at 7:00 AM. I’ve had to learn that I’m a morning person and adjust my study habits (and more) in order to accommodate this. Meanwhile, one of my friends works until 2:00 AM, sleeps until noon, and avoids the AM hours like they’re that creepy guy hanging outside of the bar on a Thursday (ugggh). That works for them, and they’re passing their classes with all A’s. Their study schedule wouldn’t work for me and vice versa because we’re wired differently. Ultimately, don’t force yourself to change to fit your schedule, as the morning bird vs night owl portion of your brain is encoded in your genes (if you want the big fancy study, check this out). Find when your brain can actually function and use that advantage to help you gain the most out of your studying. Hopefully, you’ve realized when your brain works best by this point, but stick with it and don’t try to change your genetic coding to let you work at a different time.
SNACKS: You thought I could get a single page through this without mentioning study snacks? You’ve got to be joking. Snacks are some of the most important things!!
Do Find Your Favorites.
Find the foods that make you feel good and alert and make sure they’re stocked in your dorm. For me, a crisp green apple helps me to focus on my work. Gum, mints, crackers, and cheese are other really great finger food options. I can’t always eat things like yogurt because (real talk) I’m a bit messy when I eat, and I’d rather not spill Oikos Greek Yogurt on the $100 textbook I rented, thank you very much. For my coordinated girls out there, go for it, because that protein boost might make the difference between you focusing on your work instead of thinking, “Yeah yeah yeah, but what about dinner?” If you need some starting ideas, check this out. And pick your favorites! Eating or smelling specific foods while studying can actually help trigger your brain to remember what you’re studying, making it easier for you to remember it (maybe during that presentation or test)
Don’t Reward Yourself with Food.
Huh? Everyone says that after long study times, take the time to go out with friends, have dessert, and celebrate. What am I even talking about? Give me a chance and don’t bring out those torches just yet! What I’m telling you is that food should not be a reward. It’s not something you deny yourself until a project gets done, nor is it something that you praise yourself with. Food is something that should nourish you and help your brain function. Sure, go out and do that social outing with friends afterward, eat all the cake; but, don’t tell yourself that the food is the reward. The reward is hanging out with friends, not saving the food until after. If you want that cake while you’re studying and it’ll help you to focus, I’ll be the first to offer a scoop of ice cream and make that cake “a la mode.” We cool now?
MUSIC: The endless debate! A silent space or jamming tunes? Which is better? I’m not joining that debate today, but let me give you some DIFFERENT advice.
Do Invest in Comfortable Headphones.
Weird thing to emphasize, but hear me out (man, these puns are on FIRE today!) Wherever you’re studying (i.e. library, at home, coffee shop, damp dungeon, etc.), having a good comfy pair of headphones can mean the world of difference. Airpods are popular for a reason, but a good pair of headphones don’t have to be that expensive, and if they are, they are well worth your investment. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve been so grateful to have my headphones with me to tune out the rest of the world, even when I’m not studying.
Don’t Play Your Music Out Loud.
This is mainly to you, freshman, as the rest of us have learned the common courtesy. Please, do not play your music out loud in the middle of public spaces unless you’ve okayed it with your friends. Lo-fi jams are great, but when they’re coming from a little computer speaker four tables away, Lord knows that my brain is focused halfway across the room instead of on the homework right in front of me, hence why I’ve invested in a nice pair of headphones. If you’re at home, go for it! I’ve even had my Alexa play “Phineas and Ferb” songs when I’m really in need of a mood boost. But if you’re in public, you better make sure those headphones are with you or else you know that you’ve just made yourself the #1 disturbance in the library. Congratulations.
HEALTH: “Wait a minute! This is a post about school! What’s this section doing here?” I’m so glad you asked doll!
Do Take Mental and Physical Break Times.
You ever sit at your desk all day and get pages of notes completed, finish a stack of flashcards (Quizlet or paper), review that lecture video, or finish the homework that’s been bothering you all day? Then, once you’re done, you lay in bed and stare at the ceiling with your body tense and ready to run a marathon while you just want to sleep? Been there, done that. The work you completed was amazing, but you’re so tired mentally and so anxious physically that you can’t sleep. This is a prime sign that you’ve overworked yourself and NEEDED a break earlier when you were studying. And I’m not saying, “Oh, I’ve been studying for three hours. Time for me to go to the bathroom and then get back to work.” No! Change that so-called “break” to going outside for a walk down to the mailbox and back, calling a friend and updating them on your social life for 20 minutes, volunteering with your favorite student organization, or even changing into those brand new cute leggings for a quick workout (Let’s be real though, none of us have changed out of leggings since this quarantine started). Getting your body moving will ease the tension in your muscles built up from working at a desk all day, improve your posture by getting you moving and away from your desk, and even jar your brain into thinking more creatively. So take your break and celebrate the work you’ve done. If you’re not one to take breaks or to lose track while you’re studying, schedule it into your calendar so you have no excuse (It’s on the calendar so there’s no debate that you are on a break)
Don’t Compromise Your Health for Those Grades.
The meat and potatoes of my post this week. We’ve all been taught that grades are huge indicators of our success: that whether we’re straight-A students or not determines the happiness in our lives. NEWSFLASH: Having high grades doesn’t make you happy. Sure, passing our classes and understanding the material is important and can give us a confidence boost; we came to college to learn and graduate with a degree that’ll help us get a great job on the other side. But, and listen to me here, focusing solely on your grades and letting your emotional, social, physical, mental, and spiritual health fail because of your hyperfocus on “good grades” is not going to help you in the long run. College is meant to give you opportunities to find what you enjoy, people you connect with, organizations/causes you support, and time to grow into the best, well-functioning adult that you can be. Last I checked, grades only impact your standing in school, and that only lasts four years. We can work hard for high grades while still taking the time to develop other aspects of our lives, so don’t lose yourself in the process. Studying is one of the central aspects of a college student’s life, so let’s do it well, and get ‘er done.