Good study habits for Matrics
8 Good study habits to develop
In a previous article, we discussed some bad studying habits to avoid. But knowing how to study effectively means knowing and using the best studying habits, too – we discuss some of those here!
1) Manage your time effectively
In our previous article, we touched on effective time management. In a nutshell, when it comes to good time management, there are three components:
a) Plan when to study
Effective time management starts with planning when you are going to study. This means which day of the week you’re going to study, and at what time. To do this, have a look at your diary or calendar, determine when you have time to study (even if it’s only half an hour!) and block off that time specifically for studying. Be realistic when choosing the day and time for your study sessions: you’re unlikely to want to, or to be able to, study after a long day of university or work. You know yourself better than anyone else – choose study times you think will actually work for you!
b) Planning what to study
Knowing when you’re going to study is important but knowing what you’re going to study during this study session is equally important. When you’re planning your study sessions, it is vital to decide how much material you’re going to cover. The amount of work you need to get through needs to correspond with how much time you’ve allocated to the study session. Again, be realistic – you know how much time it will take you to cover a certain topic, section or chapter. Don’t be overly ambitious, as not covering everything you wanted to in one session can be really demotivating. So, think about how long it actually takes you to cover a certain amount of material, and allocate that material and time accordingly.
c) Planning how to study
So, now that you know for how long you’re going to study, as well as what material you’re going to cover, you need to decide how you’re actually going to study – that is, what study method you’re going to use (see Number 5). This is important because it will allow you to prepare your materials ahead of the study session, which will save you time when push actually comes to shove. If you’re a visual learner who likes drawing mind maps and colour-coding, have all your pens and highlighters ready. If you’re an aural learner (someone that learns through listening), make sure you have your audio recording devices ready. Proper planning prevents poor performance!
2) Set studying goals
Goal setting goes hand in hand with planning what material you’re going to cover during your study session. As we’ve said, you need to decide how much material you’re going to cover, whether it be a number of topics/sections or chapters. It bears repeating – you must know much time each piece of material is going to take. Also, very importantly, figure out which sections will need more time, based on how much you struggle with them, or how much you think you’re going to struggle with them. It’s also a good idea to use checklists for these bits of material – ticking off things you’ve covered as you go along can be very satisfying and a reward in and of itself! It’s helpful to break down overall sections into sub-sections in a checklist. Another good idea is to take note of the time at which you started and finished each item in your checklist, as this might help you with planning more study sessions in the future, because it gives you a very clear idea of how much time you actually take to cover material, as opposed to guesstimating.
3) Reward yourself
Along with goal setting and ticking off the work you’ve covered as you cover it, treating yourself is also a good idea! Various studies have shown that treating yourself causes the brain to release a burst of dopamine – the ‘feel-good’ chemical in your brain. As a result, you end up craving that reward, which can mean motivating yourself in order to get that reward! Allow yourself to indulge a little, either at designated points during your study session, or at the end of the session. Rewards can be anything – a piece of chocolate, a little nap, an episode of your favourite series – just make sure that allowing yourself that reward won’t prevent you from continuing to study once you’ve had it, if you choose to reward yourself at certain points during the study session (so, it’s a good idea to leave things like naps and television show episodes for after you’ve completed your study session, because we all fall victim to ‘just 5 more minutes’ or ‘just one more episode’).
4) Create or choose a study space (or spaces) free of distractions
We touched on this in our article about bad studying habits, but let’s take some time to elaborate on what a good study space entail. Firstly, it needs to be free of distractions. This means a quiet space that can allow you to focus. Secondly, this means having only the necessary materials with you – try to avoid having a phone or laptop with you (or any device that can connect to the internet), if you can. If you need either of those devices (or another electronic advice), try to disconnect it from the internet, lest you become tempted to login to Facebook or watch some videos on YouTube! If you need material from the internet, try to download it ahead of time so that you don’t need to be actively connected to the internet while you study. Another important component of a good studying space is good lighting – this is important so that you can read your work without straining your eyes, which can lead to headaches and fatigue. Natural light is best but if it’s an overcast day or you’re working at night, try use soft, warm light as cold fluorescent lighting can be very harsh. It’s also important to make contingency backup plans – try have multiple study space options in case your top choice isn’t available!
5) Find the right learning style for you
There are many learning types, but we’ll touch on just a few. So, what is a learning type? In a nutshell, it’s a method of learning that works best for you. Each learning type has its own complementary learning aids for studying effectively.
a) Visual or spatial learning type
People who are visual or spatial learners are people who learn best using visual aids, namely pictures and images. Recommended study aids for visual and spatial learners include drawing graphs, tables, and mind maps, or using lots of colour in their study notes. Visual/spatial learners often come to understand their work when they transform text into imagery. Colour-coding also helps these learners by creating associations between a specific piece of information and a specific, corresponding colour.
b) Aural or auditory-musical learning type
People who are aural or auditory-musical learners find using sound while studying effective. Associating information with sound works best for them. This might mean using aids such as auditory recordings, or creating sound-based mnemonics (a fancy term for mental memory devices) that incorporate song or rhyme (for more information on mnemonics, check out this link: https://literaryterms.net/mnemonic/).
c) Verbal or linguistic learners
There are people who learn best using words themselves. For these people, speaking and writing are the best way to remember their work. For verbal/linguistic learners, recommended study aids include writing out small bits of information multiple times, reading information out loud, or both at the same time!
d) Solitary and social learners
All people are solitary and/or social learners, irrespective of what other type (or types – many people find a combination of learning techniques works for them) of learner they are. This is pretty self-explanatory – solitary learners do their best studying while alone, and social learners study best when in groups. Again, these learning types are not mutually exclusive: you may like spending some time alone familiarising yourself with work first, then meeting up with other people to discuss the work, ask each other questions, etc.
When it comes to learning styles, remember there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ learning style – everyone has a style, or a combination of styles, that works best for them. If you’re unsure of what kind of learner you are, take these two quizzes!
6) Study consistently
It’s all very good and well to allocate time for studying throughout the week, but many students fall into the trap of thinking they need to block of hours of studying time, which most of us don’t have, so they line up only one or two studying sessions each week. This is a really bad idea because you’re probably not even going to use that time as effectively as you’d like to think you will, so you’ll just end up wasting time and pushing your studies back. As we briefly mentioned earlier, a better idea is to study a little bit each day, even if it’s just half an hour. This way, you’ll likely cover more material than if you sit down (or rather, try to sit down) for several hours at a time on a Saturday afternoon. And, in doing so, you’ll probably have more time for revision! Consistent studying also means that if something unexpected comes up around your planned 3-hour study session, and you won’t be able to study for 3 hours, you’ll have done some work anyway, so there will be less of a backlog!
7) Make organised notes
We discussed this habit in our previous article on bad studying habits, but it’s worth revisiting here. The first step to having organised notes is to make notes during every class or self-study session. Don’t fool yourself into thinking ‘oh that’s obvious, I’ll remember that, I don’t need to write it down’, because it’s probably not obvious, you probably won’t remember it, and so you probably do need to write it down. Consistent note-making will save you a lot of time by the time your study sessions roll around. If you’ve been quite naughty in this regard (and we’re only human), your best backup is to organise whatever notes you do have, well ahead of time – you don’t want to be wasting precious time organising your work when you should be studying it!
8) Look after your health
Again, we’ve touched on this in a previous article, but part of knowing how to study properly ins knowing how to take care of your physical health properly. A balanced diet, adequate sleep and regular exercise is essential – you maybe the thinking ‘okay, but why do I need to look after my body if it’s my mind I’m using when I’m studying?’. Firstly, we tend to forget this, but your brain is an organ too, and like all other organs, it needs to be cared for! Getting the right nutrients from your food is essential in achieving optimal cognitive functioning – if you’re brain isn’t being given what it needs, you won’t be able to concentrate or study! Getting enough rest is important because your brain generates new neural pathways while you sleep, and this is what allows you to remember what you’ve studied. Lastly, exercise – in conjunction with diet and sleep – is vital in maintaining your energy levels, and we all know studying requires a fair bit of energy! Exercise improves blood flow, metabolism, and delivery of oxygen to the brain, all of which are vital for peak performance, both physical and mental.
So, now that you know which habits you need to develop in order to study effectively, go do your work, and best of luck! You’ll ace those tests and exams!