This was a bit of a tough one for me to write because I’m still working my way through finding the best way for.me to study for different classes. But I do have a pretty good idea of how I make the most of each of my study sessions. My goal with each of these tips is to get you to leave a study session thinking “that was actually helpful” rather than thinking “I’m wasting so much time”. So let’s jump right on into my 4 tips so your study sessions are super productive.
Here’s something that shouldn’t shock anyone. Studying starts way before you even get to the library or your perfect study desk. If you’re not doing these things, you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage when you do start studying because you won’t have a good foundation. Fortunately, these are things you can change pretty easily.
There are a lot of people who say you should only be doing some of the assignments your professor assigns. I disagree almost 95% of the time. Your professor is rarely ever assigning busy work – they’re busy and they know you’re busy too.
I’ve found that if you don’t do the assignments, your professor and fellow classmates who have done the assignment can tell. And students do complain to their roommates about these people – my roommate did a couple days ago.
More importantly, homework is essentially built in study time. If you do the homework, you can find out exactly where you’re struggling so you can really focus your study time. I personally count doing homework as studying because you are learning the material to some extent.
Again I consider this built-in study time especially if you’re actually paying attention when you take notes.
I’m a big fan of the flipped classroom style where you take notes at home and then go to class to do practice problems or to get more detailed information. That’s why I highly recommend that if you do have a textbook, you should be taking notes from it. Even if your professor is going lecture over every single thing you’ve already read (highly unlikely), you should still take textbook notes. And you should absolutely be doing them if your professor assigns them because they basically become your own personal study guide.
Then in class you should take more notes. Now these notes may just be additions to the notes you’ve done at home like annotations or they may be entirely new sets of notes. When there isn’t a textbook for a class, creating in-class notes is a necessity. For classes where I struggle to pay attention (aka History) I take entirely new notes even though I’ve already done my textbook notes because it forces me to stay present in class rather than just doodle. If you don’t fall into boredom as easily as I do, adding annotations will do just fine.
Don’t laugh just yet. I know you’re busy living up your college years but sleep doesn’t stop being something you need. I’m not saying get 7 hours every night – even though it’s completely possible – but when you schedule a study day, you should get at least 6 to 8 hours the night before. It’s the best way to make sure you retain as much of the information as you possibly can.
No we’re going to move onto the actual study session itself.
2// Plan it Out
Planning, my worst nightmare. I’ve never been particularly good at planning things out. I was more of a “remember to do x,y,z” and then I’d kind of just hope I would actually remember to do them. It worked pretty okay until my senior year when I had a million and one deadlines and no system for keeping up with all of them or for making sure I got the little steps done within each deadline. So I found a system that I particularly like and it’s Bullet Journaling. There are a ton of bullet journaling videos out there so you can learn about what it is, but I recommend starting with the video form the original creator Ryder Carol.
Bullet journaling has become my way of tracking my daily mini studying like when I want to go through and highlight my notes or something like that. But for big study sessions, I like to make a more detailed plan.
What to Study
For any study session to be truly productive, you need some plan of attack. First, decide what classes you’re going to study for. I generally recommend about 2 or 3 classes at a maximum because you’re a busy person with a life. So once you’ve figured out what classes you want to study for, decide exactly what material you need to go over. This is when doing your homework pays off because you already have a very clear picture of what things you don’t understand very well. If you’re studying for a test, your notes should be what direct you through your studying.
Two basic questions can also be good guidelines for planning your studying:
- How much time before the next exam?
- What do you think will be on the next exam?
If there’s about 2 weeks before your next exam, breaking up your study time into small chunks can be extremely useful. Otherwise, you’ll probably only want to study for the class that has the closest exam. The second question again relates to deciding what you really need to spend time working on.
How Long to Study
Make sure as you’re planning this out, that you’re physically putting it down on paper. By doing so, you’ll have a very clear visual of what needs to get done. And it’ll be easier to figure out just how much time you need to spend on each class. Then block out that time in your schedule so that you don’t make plans during that time. I find that I lose interest in a subject after about 2 hours of straight studying so I only assign myself about 2 hours per subject if I have a test that’s really close. That ends up usually being about a planned 4-hour session. Otherwise, I’ll do about four 1-hour blocks where I study a new subject every hour. But you need to figure out what works for you.
3// Study Time
So you’ve got a good foundation of the information because you’re taking good notes and you have a plan for what you need to study. All that’s left is actually getting to the studying.
Make sure that you’ve set up your desk efficiently so that you can be extremely productive if you plan to study in your room. If you’re going to study at the library, make sure you grab all of your gear like pens, pencils, highlighters, flashcards, and all of your notes. If you need your laptop bring it along, otherwise it should probably stay in your room. Don’t leave your study plan behind either.
I know it may seem really obvious but I have forgotten to bring highlighters with me when I’m studying on a number of occasions. Now I have a dedicated study drawer that has all of my usual study stuff so I can just grab all of that stuff at once. My roommate on the other hand has a sticky note with all of the stuff she needs to get before she leaves the dorm and she says that helps more than anything. Figure out a method that works for you so you don’t leave anything you need behind.
Now the real studying begins. The only thing you want on your study desk is the materials you are going to use to study for one specific class. All the other stuff needs to go into your backpack or in a drawer. You want to be completely focused on one class at a time. You can take it one step further and only take out the notes you need and then put the rest of the binder away. I do this because sometimes, when I really don’t want to be studying, I’ll read through all of my notes and justify it by saying it was studying even though it really wasn’t.
Laptops are only to be used when absolutely necessary. Unless your notes are on your laptop (which I don’t personally recommend) or you’re researching something, your laptop should be closed and in your backpack. If you need to have it out, a maxim
um of 2 tabs should be open in whatever browser you’re using. Fight the temptation to have other social media tabs open in a separate window, trust me you’re still going to look at those and not study.
Your phone should be handled the same way. Only touch it when absolutely necessary. I’m not going to say you shouldn’t listen to music because my main way I study is with music. But you should have a playlist with all of the songs you want to listen to and then you shouldn’t touch it again (unless a really and truly terrible song comes up). Your phone can also serve as your timer to remind you of just how much time you have until your next break.
4// Break Time
You should be taking breaks about every hour or two at a max. Sometimes, a break every 45 minutes is the only way you’ll be able to get through something and that’s completely okay. I generally give myself a break once I’ve finished studying a certain number of things on my study plan, usually every 3 or 4 concepts if they’re difficult and 5 or 6 if I’m just doing basic review. Either way works perfectly, you just need to decide which one you like best.
During your breaks, completely stop what you were doing and actually give yourself a break before diving into something else. For at least the first minute of the break you should just sit in your seat and not do anything, just take a breath. You could mediate here if you want to but I enjoy just sitting and letting my shoulders and back relax. Then after that first minute, decide what else you want to do. If you’ve been studying for 2 hours, a 20 to 30-minute break is definitely in order. If you’ve been working for an hour at least 15 or 20 minutes should get you back into the grove of studying,
Get up and stretch, take a walk, go pee, or do a few breathing exercises. Let yourself relax before you throw yourself back into studying. I’m partial to a crunchy snack when I’m studying so I generally have some carrots to munch on. Keep the snacking healthy so that you don’t feel sluggish. Also, try to avoid eating a heavy meal while you’re studying because you probably won’t want to work again immediately after eating.
Once the timer signals the end of your break, immediately get back to work. If you’re switching classes, swap out the stuff on your desk and then get back to work.
So those are my tips to having a productive study session. I know it’s super long (almost 2000 words) but this is what I’ve found works for me.
What study habits do you have? Are you planning on adding any of these to your list?