I always thought I knew how to study until I got into University of Florida’s PaCE Program–which basically means your entire first 2 semesters are online. I’m not going to get into that in this post, but bottom line is that becoming my own teacher in college showed me that my study methods were horrible. I was suddenly 6 full classes deep and had to be the one to decide when to watch which lectures, when to do homework, when to read the textbooks, take quizzes, THE WHOLE NINE YARDS. You never realize how easy you have it when you have a designated time to go to class and a designated time to study/do homework on your own. With that being said, I wanted to share some of the things I do to stay on track and properly learn material efficiently. I hated sitting at my computer for hours at a day, so I came up with study tips, tricks & methods to shorten that time as much as I could.
- SETTING THE MOOD
Ok I’m going to start with this because it’s important but not that important. I am one who gets distracted easily, and as much as I try I just can’t listen to my favorite music while studying. What I have found keeps me concentrated, however, is:
○ Coffitivity– a website that allows you to play the background noises of a coffee shop to increase productivity
○Listening to Disney soundtrack instrumentals. Ok, I know that’s so weird, but seriously youtube it and try it out–they have like 2 hour long videos on it and it really does make me calm and focused.
- PLANNING: BREAK IT DOWN
I know it’s a given that you need a planner in college but a lot of people underestimate how important it really is. Doing this helps all of us who have to cover a lot of material in just a week. Once you know all the homework/studying you need to do for the week, divide it by the number of days you have and break it down. For example, if you have to read 50 pages by Sunday night, do not start Saturday and force yourself to sit down and read 25 pages both days. Instead, divide 50 by 7 and only read 7 pages a night. Doing so breaks down the workload and reduces the chances of you getting distracted and not understanding what you read.This is how my planner usually looks every week:
I color-code my classes at the beginning of every semester so I know immediately what I have to do for each class. This saves me a lot of space that would otherwise be taken up by writing course names. I use the same colors for my notebooks and when I write on my desk calendar!
- THE POMODORO TECHNIQUE
If you are the type of person who ends up spending way too much time on an assignment that should’ve taken 15 minutes, this is for you. Similarly, if you’re like me and your brain wants to do everything on your to-do list at once, this technique is a lifesaver. It basically helps you speed through assignments in small increments of 25 minutes, giving you 5-minute breaks in between. The full explanation can be found on their website here. I use this technique almost daily now, and it has saved me so much time it’s incredible.
*Side note* the technique recommends you use any type of timer, but I don’t have enough self-control to use my phone nor do I own a physical timer, so I use the Be Focused App. It installs right onto your desktop and it allows you to personalize your increments.
- USE A PHYSICAL NOTEBOOK TO WRITE YOUR NOTES
I have always struggled with writing my notes on my laptop, I never understood why they just didn’t help me at all–until I did some research on it. Turns out, writing your notes with a pen and notebook helps your brain retain the information long-term. Now, I know that writing with a pen/paper while your professor is talking fast can be difficult, but if that is the case I recommend copying your virtual notes to a notebook as a form of studying. If you don’t really believe me on this, here are some reputable websites explaining: Scientific American, Association for Psychological Science, and National Public Radio.
- WRITING NOTES FROM A TEXTBOOK THE RIGHT WAY
I used to take notes as I read, stopping whenever I saw a bolded word or key concept. Honestly, this method usually just puts you in the cycle of mindless writing without actually absorbing the material. I have learned that reading 2 pages completely then going back and writing notes helped me retain the information better and made the process go by way quicker. Our brains are not designed to multi-task, so doing the reading and writing in separate chunks helps a lot. This leads me to my next point:
- DO NOT WRITE DOWN THE ENTIRE TEXTBOOK/LECTURE
This has been my biggest habit to break. When writing notes, my instinct was to write most of it down so I could learn it later. But the secret to this is to learn it as you’re writing notes, so that when you study it’s simply review. I usually make my bullet points 4-6 word phrases.
- HOMEWORK ON DOWNTIME
If there are things on your to-do list you don’t necessarily need to be sitting at a desk for, then don’t. For example, you have to read this book/large text you don’t have too much time–listen to the audiobook while you’re driving, in the shower, cooking, tanning or whenever. I usually use the Audible by Amazon app, it’s the one that has worked best for me. However, I know there are a lot of free audiobooks you can find on youtube/google.
* if it’s not a book download a text-to-speech app, copy/paste the text and listen through there.
- AVOID MENTAL DISTRACTIONS
I don’t know if anyone else has this problem, but when I sit down to do homework my brain decides to think of every possible thing I need to do. Not just school stuff, I’m talking about “email so and so” “call aunt for birthday” “wash car”-anything and everything. This always caused me to stop in my tracks and try to multi-task, which is never a good idea. To fix this issue, I keep a sticky note on my desk and write the distracting thoughts down so I can come back to them when I’m finished.
- EXTRA: I PROMISE YOU DON’T NEED 10 HOURS OF SLEEP
Studies have shown that the majority of people are more productive in the morning and I am a big advocate for this. In the mornings there are fewer distractions and you’re able to get things out of the way so you don’t have to worry about them all day. I know it feels great, but sleeping for more than 7-8 hours is really not needed. Once you get in the habit of sleeping for 7, your body will wake up on its own and you’ll be more productive. I usually go to sleep around midnight and wake up at 7, this has proved most effective for me.
I hope some of these have helped you, let me know if any did 🙂 I am constantly changing and improving my studying methods/routine, it’s all a work in progress. Remember, learning how to study well doesn’t happen overnight– it takes patience and effort. We all have to start somewhere!