How to Study Effectively
8 Bad study habits to avoid
There are many articles and tips on developing good habits for how to study most effectively, but we don’t really talk about bad studying habits all that often. While developing good studying habits is essential, it’s really also important to know which habits to avoid! A lot of research has been done on what not to do, and why not to do it, and we’ll be discussing some of those things here!
A lot of students think it’s a really good idea (or truthfully, they’ve just left their studying to the last minute) to stay up all night before a test or exam, trying to cram in as much knowledge as possible. But cramming is actually a big problem and it is actually one of the worst ways to study because your brain doesn’t have an opportunity to consolidate the information you’re trying to pack into it.
Multiple studies have proven that it’s actually sleeping that helps you remember the material you’ve studied. This is because your brain generates new neural pathways while you sleep, which allows it to convert short term memory into long term memory. Sleep is also really important for restoring your energy levels, and energy levels are very important for studying. Looking after your physical health – and one part of this is getting enough rest - is crucial when studying. On average, a person needs between 6 and 8 hours of sleep a night, so make sure you get enough rest after a studying session. Another way to study is to cover material in relatively short bursts, and then rest or take a quick nap in between your study sessions. When you wake up or get back up again, test your knowledge on what you just studied so you can see what material you need to revise!
We all know caffeine helps keeps us awake and alert enough to study, right? Well – yes, and no. It’s true, caffeine is a nervous system stimulant, which means it gives us that ‘kickstart’ we need and increases our concentration for a short period of time. But after that ‘rush’ comes the crash (when the caffeine has worked its way out of your system). Once you have that dip in energy, you’ll probably find it really hard to regain focus after that! And the caffeine isn’t the only problem with energy drinks – they’re filled with a ton of ingredients you really don’t want to be putting in your body! For some people, consuming excessive amounts of caffeine – as found in energy drinks - can potentially contribute to heart problems. They also contain way more sugar than you should be drinking in any one drink, which can be a problem for people prone to diabetes. In conclusion, using energy drinks to improve concentration is a really bad way to study, but if you must have that Red Bull or Monster Energy drink, it’s recommended not to exceed 475ml a day - and stay away from caffeine ‘shots’
In order to keep up your energy levels safely and consistently, it’s important to rest (as we’ve said), do some exercise, and very importantly – to eat right! But what should you be eating? Keep on reading…
Many of us tend to ‘comfort eat’ when we’re stressed, or we don’t have time to cook healthy, balanced meals when trying to juggle time for studying. And so, many of us turn to junk food, whether it be for the surge of dopamine, or because it’s easy and convenient. The bad news is, eating junk food when trying to study is one of the worst things you can do, not only for your body but for your mind as well! When you don’t eat healthily, your body doesn’t get the right combination of nutrients it needs to function optimally, and that means your brain doesn’t either. Moral of the story: you’re not going to be able to study well if you don’t eat well.
So, what can you do about this? Well, the best thing you can do is to keep some healthy snacks on hand (see our article on brain fuel foods) and make sure you eat regularly and as healthily as you can. Meal planning is a great way of doing this. By cooking healthy meals in bulk and separating them into multiple portions, you save time you would otherwise have to spend cooking every day and heating up food (if you need or want to) takes only a couple of minutes!
It probably goes without saying that having distractions around you when you’re studying is a really bad idea, for obvious reasons. But it’s also super hard not to get distracted – after a while, scrolling through Facebook or Instagram is a lot more enjoyable than wading through your study material. Distractions mean you waste time, and we all know time is usually not on our side when it comes to tests or exam!
So, how can you avoid this? The best thing to do is create a dedicated study space in which you have nothing but your study materials. This means no TV, no phone, no Xbox, or whatever it is that distracts you. For some people, listening to music is a great way to study better. And that’s fine, but if you’re using your phone or laptop for that, you’re going to have to exercise a lot of willpower. Try to download your music and play it via a media player that doesn’t require an internet connection, like through a flash drive or a CD (old school, we know!). On the point of internet connection: if you need the internet to study, if it’s at all possible, try to download that material first, and work through it with your laptop or tablet disconnected from the internet. We know how tempting it can be to open up that Twitter or YouTube tab for ‘just 5 minutes’! By severing that internet connection, you’ll find it much easier to learn your material more effectively.
Poor time management
This is very closely linked to the first point about cramming and pulling all-nighters. Managing your time badly, or not managing it at all, is one of the worst things you can do for studying. Why? Well, you’re obviously not going to get through all the work you have in the period of time you have before your test or exam, and this is going to have a huge (negative!) impact on your results.
So, what should you do? The best thing to do is to look at your calendar and see how much time you can fit in each day, and at which point during the day you can fit it in. Block this off as dedicated study time. But be realistic! Don’t say to yourself ‘I’m going to study for 4 hours this evening after university/work/gym’ or whatever it may be. Because, realistically, the chances of you not using all that time are very high, and that may demotivate you. So, you know how long you can actually study for at any given time – use this figure as your benchmark/estimate. On that point, it’s very important that you study consistently – even 20 or 30 minutes a day is better than nothing. By doing a little bit each day, you’ll most likely get through more of your material than if you try to do it all over one or two full days! Consistency is key when it comes to studying better.
No study plan
This is also very closely linked to time-management. It’s all well and good to organise the time during which you’re going to study, but maybe even more important is knowing how you’re actually going to study. If you go into your study time without a game plan or sense of direction, you’re going to get confused, distracted, and stressed, and that’s going to waste even more time.
The solution? Make a study plan. When you’re blocking off those study times, decide what material you’re going to cover. You need to decide on how to learn your material, i.e. what method of studying you’re going to use. Are you going to make nice mind maps? Have your paper and writing implements at the ready. Are you going to make lovely colour-coded bullet points? Make sure your highlighters are all lined up. Also, allocate more time to sections that you struggle with. Again, you need to be realistic with the time you allocate to different pieces of your material. It’s also helpful to try to make study notes ahead of your study period so you can spend more of that time revising your notes, rather than using it to look at your material for the first time.
Many students think parrot-learning is a great way to study. They memorise things verbatim, by heart, and think if they just regurgitate the information in the test or the exam, that they’ll get their marks. This is a really poor way of studying, not only because examiners often don’t give marks for this kind of exam or test answer, but also because it’s often really hard to remember things you don’t actually understand.
The solution is simple: you need to actually understand what it is you’re learning. This means really grappling with the material. If you don’t understand a concept, you mustn’t be shy to ask a lecturer, a fellow classmate, or even Google for help! Sure, working through material in order to comprehend it properly takes a lot more time than just memorising it, but in the long run, once you really understand your work, you’ll remember it – once it clicks, it sticks! Another component of studying properly in practice – it’s really important to practice answering questions by completing past test papers and exams, particularly for subjects like mathematics, physics and chemistry, and law. By practising answering questions and checking how well you do, you can test your understanding of the material and find out where you need to spend more time studying.
Like going into a study session with a bunch of disorganised notes scattered around your study space is really not a good way to study. Again, this is mostly down to the amount of time you’ll be wasting while trying to organise your notes.
The answer is straightforward – organise your notes outside of your study time, just like you plan your studying sessions before actually studying. This means that when study time comes around, you’ll be prepared to make the most of that time. Here are some easy ways to organise your notes:
Organising notes by date:
If you’ve been taking notes during lectures or certain time periods and now they’re all out of order, the best thing to do is to lay them all out and gather them into chronological order. This way, you won’t be confused as to the logical thread of the content. Put them – in order - in a folder or file.
For visual learners, coding topics and themes by colour really help. Again, file these papers before you lose them!
Separating notes into categories:
Another helpful way to organise notes is by using separate folders for different subjects, and different file dividers within those folders for different sections of the subject. Label these folders and dividers clearly so that you can find the material you’re looking for really quickly! Numbering the pages and making a table of contents for the first page in your file is also helpful (these tips apply to digital files, too!).
Clearly naming digital documents:
If you work on a laptop or tablet and absolutely hate working with paper, make sure your notes are in clear, logically designated folders, and that all documents have clear names. This way, you won’t be scrolling through random lists of documents looking for a specific set of notes.
So, now that you know how to study effectively, we’re confident you’ll be able to ace those tests and exams! Good luck!