An all too common and easy assumption made about studying is that the longer time you study for, the more you will learn and the more your overall results will subsequently improve. However, it's often the case that students will feel cheated when they study for 5 hours for an exam and a peer who only studied for 2 hours achieves a higher mark.
The question must then be asked: Why do we measure our level of work according to an amount of time when time clearly has no correlation to the effectiveness of our studying?
The fact is that 2 hours of distraction-free study, with the right focus and outcomes in mind, can lead to a better understanding than 10 hours of study with an unfocused mind. How then, can the time spent studying, be made most effective?
1. Healthy Body = Healthy Mind
Especially as students reach the last few years of their education, it can become extremely difficult to ensure a balance between the many elements of their life, however, it is more crucial than ever in these years to maintain a balance. Ensuring to sleep for at least 8 hours each night is crucial, especially depending on age. Students should find time for exercise every week and maintain a healthy diet. Especially minimising sugar intake, specifically before and during study periods.
It is also important to retain a work-life balance between studying and other past times. Social lives do not have to be entirely sacrificed for the sake of study. In fact, it is beneficial to both academic performance and mental wellbeing to maintain this balance as friends are often instrumental in providing support in times of stress and contribute to a healthy, happy and positive state of mind.
By student taking care of their bodies, and making sure that they are healthy and happy, the mind is able to maintain greater focus during study periods. As students begin to see their results improving through implementing this healthy work-life balance, studying becomes a more enjoyable experience and instills personal motivation and incentive for students to work harder to achieve their best.
2. Set S.M.A.R.T Goals:
Students should make a list of the things aimed to do in a day of study, in order of priority. Consider breaking large tasks down into smaller manageable parts. Aims for a day should adhere to the principle of S.M.A.R.T goals:
This means that students can hold themselves accountable for the work that is completed, ensuring they are being effective and efficient. An example of a S.M.A.R.T goal is "complete questions 1-6 in chapter 3". A goal without the S.M.A.R.T criteria, such as "do 2 hours of maths", or "revise algebra", can make it harder for students to achieve what they have set out to do. Goals of this kind are vague, causing students to spend excess time deciding what is to be done, rather than doing it.
3. Remove distractions:
Students should ensure their workspace is clean and free of distractions (putting phones in another room). Computers should only be used if needed, and if necessary, should only be used to access what is needed. If students are struggling to stay off Facebook and/or other distractions, they should consider installing an app such as Cold Turkey (https://getcoldturkey.com/ ) that will help to keep away distractions during study periods.
4. Take Regular Breaks & Reward Yourself:
The brain fatigues quickly. For the average student who has not practiced good study habits, approximately 30 minutes of uninterrupted study can lead to the brain being half as effective as it was when the student began studying. Over an hour or more of studying without breaks can lead to the brain being anywhere between 10% and 0% effective.
By taking regular breaks the brain is rewarded for the study. It associates the study with the reward and therefore is more likely to focus on the work at hand, enhancing retention and understanding.
To put this into practice, students should follow these steps:
- Set a timer for 25 minutes and work.
- When the timer goes off, take a 5-minute break. Return to your desk and repeat the process.
- Once you've completed all the work you have to or every 3-4 hours, take a longer more rewarding break.
- As you practice this, you will become more able to focus for longer amounts of time, and you can build up the time between breaks. After a couple of weeks at 25 minutes, try 30 minutes. Within a couple of months, you should be able to achieve productive study for about an hour without breaks.