Often, it’s not what you’re doing, but how you are doing it that matters most. If you want to improve your study game this fall, check out some of these tried and tested tips for success (maybe even try a few yourself). No Adderall necessary!
1. Listen to white noise
If you are easily distracted or have difficulty concentrating, try listening to white noise while you study. Not only does white noise drown out distracting sounds in your environment, it also helps to silence distracting thoughts within your own mind. That’s why it’s more effective than listening to music, and a great tactic to use if you tend to have a wandering mind. There are many websites and recordings of white noise available for free online. Here’s one that may help you prepare for your next test.
2. De-activate social media accounts during exam weeks
During the busiest weeks of the semester, social media can become more appealing to us than ever. That’s because in times of stress our minds seek out the simplest forms of relief. For many of us, that means the mind-numbing world of facebook, twitter, instagram, etc. Excessive distractions like these can be completely detrimental to effective studying, creating a cycle of avoidance and increased stress, and contributing to a lack of sleep and focus. If you have this issue, eliminate it altogether by temporarily deleting your social media apps and deactivating any accounts on sites you might be tempted to visit.
3. Chew gum
The act of chewing stimulates blood flow to the brain, makes you more alert and focused, and is therefore very good for studying. Try chewing one specific flavor of gum while you study a subject, then chew that some flavor again when you take an exam for that subject. Not only will chewing boost your focus, but the sensory experience of the gum flavor can help to jog your memory on the test, as it will remind you of the time you spent studying.
4. Alternate locations
Always studying in the same place can reduce your productivity, interest and focus. Find several locations where you feel comfortable studying and when you begin to feel that decline in focus and enthusiasm, switch to a new location. Alternating every hour or two can reinvigorate your interest in the work, and the act of walking between locations can also provide you with a short, relaxing break.
5. Take effective breaks
On the subject of breaks, remember that they can both greatly benefit your studies and distract you from them, so try and take the most effective breaks possible. Focusing on the same material for too long can diminish your focus and interest. Generally, it is smart to study for no longer than 50 minutes to an hour before taking a short break.
Breaks do not need to be long (around 5 or 10 minutes is advisable), but they do need to provide mental relief, so avoid reading, writing, planning, etc. during your break.
6. Create a consistent routine and stick to it
Research shows that the most effective students study according to a regular schedule. Dedicate a few specific hours each week to your studies and treat your study plans as a firm, unbreakable commitment to yourself. Your mind loves repetition, so studying during short, planned intervals is often superior to spending only one long session reviewing for a test. Even if you can only commit to an hour or two each week, a regular study schedule gives you a huge advantage.
7. Utilize groups
In addition to independent studying, studying within groups can be a very effective way to review and retain material. In order to participate in a group study session, you are required to articulate your understanding of the material in conversation, which is why the method is so effective. Have you ever taken a test and felt like you knew the material, but were unable to answer the question? During group study, you’ll have the opportunity to synthesize and articulate your answers in a way that makes you more prepared to do so again on a test. In addition, you’ll get to listen to the perspectives of other students, and learn to understand the material in new ways.
8. Regulate your sleep cycle
It can be very difficult to maintain a regular sleep schedule in college, yet having one can do so much to improve your mood and alertness. If sleeping at the same time each night feels impossible to you, consider taking melatonin supplements. While some may categorize this as a “substance” (thus breaking the rule of this list), melatonin is a naturally-occurring hormone within the human body, and taking it has very few side-effects. Typically, your mind releases the hormone when the natural time for sleep approaches. However, if you have an irregular schedule, you may experience insomnia due to the fact that your brain is not releasing melatonin at the times most convenient to you. A supplement essentially allows you to control when you rest in a more natural way than prescription sleep-aids.
9. Avoid excessive caffeine
Caffeine can have a positive or negative effect on studying, depending on how it is used. In small amounts, consumed at earlier periods in the day, caffeine can help to boost focus and memory. However, in larger amounts, consumed at inconvenient times, caffeine can hurt you. Caffeine has a varied effect on each individual person, so it is important to know your own personal limits. Two good questions to ask before you drink any caffeinated beverages are: 1) When do I need to sleep? and 2) Will I be okay experiencing a caffeine crash in 4-6 hours? Generally, if you need to sleep within the next 5 hours, caffeine is a bad idea. Sleep is just as important to your retention as is the act of studying. On the flip side, if you have a test that takes place in 5 hours, be aware that drinking caffeine now could cause you to experience a slump when you need your energy the most.
10. Power nap (in the rare case of an all-nighter)
All-nighters are not advisable. Often, a few hours of sleep are worth more to you than the crammed-in last-minute information you skimmed over in the wee hours of the morning before a test. Sleep affects our ability to retain information, focus, think clearly, and remain mentally healthy. It is essential to our mental performance and should not be sacrificed if other options are available to you. However, if you feel an all-nighter is your only option, strategize to make it as effective and healthy as possible. The average human sleep cycle is 90 minutes long, and waking up in the middle of a cycle is often what makes us feel so groggy and detached. During a 90-minute cycle, our bodies experience 65 minutes of normal (non-REM sleep), followed by 20 minutes of REM, then five more final minutes of normal sleep. Keep this in mind when planning your all-nighter. Often 90 minutes of sleep is more beneficial than 4 hours. A 90-minute nap to begin your study session can be a great way to energize, and a 90-minute nap before your test can be a great way to refresh your mind.