Study habits are personal business. After more than a decade of coaching students I’m certain that there is no universal “right way” of studying. There are many individual preferences to consider. Some of those preferences are the difference between a frustrating evening of trying to study vs. a solid, productive study session. If you’ve got some studying in your future it makes sense to take time to consider what works best for you so can hit the ground running.
Let me walk you through some of the things to consider when cooking up your ultimate recipe for studying. I like to start with an easy question. What time of day are you smartest? People generally know if they are morning people or night people. At the very least you probably know when you aren’t very clear headed. When thinking about your schedule for the upcoming year you may want to consider leaving your smart time free for studying. Easy.
Next, let’s take a look at some of your habits. Are you a pen chewer, fidgeter or pacer? These are three of the habits that we instinctively do that increase stimulation levels in our brains. If you have one of these habits, you may want to incorporate it into your studying. For example, a person who paces may be happier working at a counter or standing desk where they can walk around a bit without it being awkward. A pen chewer could switch to chewing gum. A fidgeter can find their favorite fidget tool for studying. These are tiny steps that can edge you to a little better focus. And, when you add them with the other strategies they could tip you to success.
Let’s talk about your favorite setting for studying. Are you more able to concentrate if you are in a busy coffee shop, a booth at the library, or somewhere else entirely? Do you need to be away from the distractions of your home? Or is anywhere fine as long as you’re wearing headphones? Do you want to be surrounded by other people or alone?
If you take ADHD meds, consider timing of meds to study time. You likely study better when medicated. In fact, it makes sense to think about how your body is doing. Many of us study better if we have eaten protein, slept enough, and not run ourselves into the ground. It is easy to think you study better with no sleep and running on caffeine because you have relied so heavily on the pressure of last-minute deadlines in the past that you have paired the stimulation from fear with the feeling of exhaustion. That is a trap, my friends. Try and take care of yourself so you don’t rely as heavily on fear. If you can learn to study without being unhealthy it will benefit you in the long run.
Another set of considerations are your learning style and processing style. If you haven’t figured out what your style is, it is worth googling the topic and reading through suggested study practices for the different ways of thinking. Often one way or another stands out as really helpful. If you try some techniques and they don’t work for you, just try another. No worries.
One of the best indicators of what will work for you is looking back at what worked well in the past. Start there and make adjustments as needed. This isn’t magic.
There are a few things you can do immediately before and into your study session. Exercise first, for a huge concentration advantage. If you have something boring to work on you can do something very stimulating first. Your brain will wake up and function well for the stimulating thing and you can sneak in some boring work while you’re feeling smart. You can start your studying with something easy or interesting and once your concentration is there work into the less interesting work. Use interval timers to help you notice the passing of time. When the timer rings you do a very quick check-in to see that you’re on track.
There are limitless ways of studying. Pay attention to what works for you and repeat it enough for it to feel routine. If you can get yourself into a routine you can rely on it for years to come.