This year, give yourself an edge in your education. Developing good study habits helps you succeed not only in the classroom, but can improve your focus, problem-solving skills, and even your health. Don’t just limit your New Year’s resolutions to eating better and exercising more. This year, make a plan to improve your study techniques and develop more effective study habits. Here are some tried and true study tips to start off the New Year right.
Create a Conducive Study Environment
Our surroundings play an important role in our ability to focus. If your study environment is distracting or stressful, you could be undermining your efforts without even knowing it. Find a quiet, well-lit area, remove all distractions (including social media and the Internet, if these are weaknesses for you), and make sure your friends and family know you're busy. Schedule a regular time to study, whatever time of day best suits you – before leaving for work, after the kids have gone to bed, even during your lunch break if your schedule is full. If you need to, schedule regular time in a quiet environment such as the library. Treat every study session as an appointment with yourself – and make every effort to keep that appointment. Once you make studying a habit, you'll find it much easier to keep at it.
Ask Questions & Seek Help
Professors aren't just there to present slides or grade exams; they're there to help you understand the material. It's up to you to step forward and ask. Don't let confusing topics pass you by, or you'll likely fall behind. If you're not comfortable asking questions during class, try to meet with your professor before or after class, or schedule time outside of class. If you're enrolled in an online class, you can ask questions via email and the course discussion board.
Don’t discount the ability of your classmates to help, too. Ask your fellow classmates if they’d be interested in studying together – or if they have just 15 minutes to review a matter with you.
Practice makes perfect, so if you’re studying information you’re going to be tested on in class, why not test yourself at home? Studies have shown that recalling information helps us to solidify that information in our long-term memory. If you’ve just finished studying a subject at home, test yourself to see how well you absorbed the information and ensure you understand the material.
You can find practice exams in your textbook or online, or you can ask your instructor for a copy of a previous exam. Try to simulate actual exam conditions – put your notes away and time yourself. After you check your work, circle the questions you answered incorrectly and use them as a starting point for your next study session. You can also create flashcards to memorize facts such as names, dates and definitions. Again, you’ll be more successful in your studies if you don’t look at the back of the card at the first sign of a struggle. Power through to see how well you can remember – although it might not seem fun, you’re helping strengthen your brain’s connection to the material!
Taking better care of our bodies through diet and exercise is a common New Year’s resolution – but did you know that by taking care of your physical health, you’ll also help improve your mental health? What you do outside of studying plays a large role in how well you can focus and retain information.
Eat balanced meals that include plenty of fruits, vegetables and protein. Studies show that foods high in healthy fats, such as salmon and almonds, can boost memory and overall brain function. Exercise regularly to refresh your mind between study sessions and improve your energy and alertness. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated; dehydration can make it harder to focus, memorize and absorb the material you study. Most importantly, stick to a regular sleep schedule and aim for 7-8 hours each night. Regular sleep can actually help improve your retention of new information by giving your brain downtime to process and organize information.
Everyone's diet and exercise needs are different, so ask a doctor, dietitian or certified personal trainer for more detailed advice.
Space Out Your Studies
Last-minute cramming might help you retain knowledge in your short-term memory, but in the long-run you’ll be better off if you space out your studies over a longer period of time. Studies have shown this method to be more effective at helping us retain knowledge in our long-term memory, and although scientists aren’t entirely sure why it works this way, they suspect that it’s because when you study over a longer period of time, you forget information and must relearn it.
Although this probably sounds counter-intuitive – why would I want to study in a way that makes me forget what I’ve already studied? – consider it this way: If you leave a week in between study sessions, you will likely retain some – but not all – information from your first session. In order to move on to new material, you will first have to review what you studied the previous week. Going over the material a second time will help you to cement that information in your brain and lay a foundation for another study session. This method of study will require some forethought and planning and will only work if you plan ahead!
Take Frequent Breaks
Although it might sound like an inefficient way to study, adding frequent breaks to your study sessions can actually increase your productivity. Try the Pomodoro Technique, a time management technique that interspaces set times of work with short breaks. Start by setting a timer for 25 minutes. For those 25 minutes, focus solely on one project or task. When the time is up, take a brief break, 3 to 5 minutes perhaps. Once your break is over, begin again. Once you’ve gone through four iterations of this process, take a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes.
You’ll likely find that it’s easier to focus intently if you know a break is coming!
Switch Up Your Subjects
Instead of focusing all day on one subject, switch up your studies frequently. Moving between subjects not only keeps your mind fresh, but it can also help you retain information better. Part of this may be due to the same reasons as above – you are learning, forgetting and then relearning information, helping to create pathways in the brain that are more solid. When you move between subjects, you will also be comparing the information you just learned to different information, which could help you make stronger connections.
Learning can be an intensely personal process, however, and what works for someone else might not work for you. What study habits work best for you? Leave us a comment and share your favorite tips!