Effective Study Habits for College Students

You pulled an all-nighter studying, but still failed the test. You have no idea how this is possible because you spent twelve hours going over the material.

That, in itself, was the biggest mistake you made.

The problem isn’t that you didn’t study enough; the problem is how you studied to begin with. I learned this lesson myself long ago in college, but with the help of a very insightful instructor, I never failed again. A thirty minute conversation with my Professor helped me turn my study habits into an incredible learning adventure; one that has yet to fail me. It started with a very simple exercise.

Fortunate to have a teacher who cared, I was able to go to him with my concerns about my lack of ability to retain what I had read over and over. When I left his office thirty minutes later, I knew I was on the path to practical study habits.

My Professor told me that there are two reasons we read: to entertain or to learn. In college, it’s almost always the latter. When something is not interesting to us to begin with, it will be much more difficult to capture our attention. We’ll have no problem reading an article out of “US” magazine, nor will we forget it, because we wanted to know what it said. If we do forget it, it isn’t of any importance to us either. We read it only because we wanted to and gained from it what we needed. However, when we’re faced with learning about something we may find no interest in, the thought of having to do so already clouds our lack of interest. We have to find a way to learn it, but most importantly, we need to do it in a way that our brain will retain it.

Our brains can only take so much, you know.

My instructor asked me to listen, and then he recited twelve numbers to me. The numbers were random and out of order, but he asked me to listen to them. After speaking them, he asked me to tell him what the numbers were. I found out it was harder then I thought. I was able to remember the first three or four he mentioned, and I was able to remember the last two he spoke of; but somehow, those in the middle had escaped my mind. He then went on to explain.

My Professor told me that my ability to remember only the first few numbers and the last few was a lot like studying. He told me that the brain has a fifteen to twenty minute attention span and then starts to get bored. If I study for hours, I will probably only remember the beginning of what I read, and the last of what I read, but what was seen in the middle will be less then a memory. The brain, he said, gets bored.

He told me that studying isn’t about reading for hours, it’s about reading in bits. Marathon runners start out quickly and end with a spurt of energy, do they not? That is exactly what our brain does when we introduce it to material; it begins learning, gets tired, and ends with remembering the last thing we read. Everything in the middle goes out of our heads. All because we made our brain spend too much time trying to digest what we needed too.

I was instructed to begin reading for fifteen to twenty minutes at a time and then take a break. I was told never to study even for an hour; it was too much to take in at one time. I was also told that what I see is often what I remember, but it can’t always be on the pages of a book. When we drive down an expressway and see a glimpse of a billboard, we’ll remember what it said. We see it quickly and then it passes. The same goes for studying. Then my professor finished his speech.

I was told to study in spurts, not in length. He advised me to put answers to questions I found difficulty with around my home, written on paper, taped to walls throughout my home. When I pass the question and answer, I read it and move on. I was also told that I have plenty of down time in my day to study, but don’t take advantage of it. I was instructed to write down test question and answers on 3 by 5 cards and keep them with me at all times; while shopping, on my lunch hour at work or even in my car. Anytime I had a free moment, I was to take out a card and read it. Little spurts, he said, make the difference. The brain is always fresh and ready to learn that way.

I went home that afternoon and did what he said. I had another test coming up in two weeks and I wanted so badly to not only pass it, but show my teacher that I had not wasted his time that day. Needless to say, come test day, I got an 97; two weeks prior it was 62. What is even more unbelievable is that I can still remember the answers to those questions, and I don’t even need to anymore.

When you find your mind wandering when you study, it’s time to walk away. Watch a show, make a call and clear your mind. The homework will be there when you return.

The key is to give you and your mind the space it deserves. It’s not you that feels bored, it’s your brain telling you it is.

Give it a break. Study smart, study small and study in spurts. All-nighters only mean you’re awake; it doesn’t mean you’ve learned anything.

It’s your brain that sleeps at night, not your body. If you bore your mind, you’ll get nowhere.

Plan the time you’ll need to study; plan it as you would for a night on the town; because it’s just as important. You can’t decide in an instant to do something as important as waking up your mind.

*Study in fifteen minute increments, then take a break for a while

*Keep your study area free from noise and distraction

*Plan your study time a head of time

*Study early in the day when your mind is rested and fresh

*Eat. You can’t keep your mind on your homework if your stomach needs attention

*Never study last minute. Start the day you know a test is coming up

Most of all, keep a positive attitude. If you delve into a process that you feel you’ll already fail at, you most likely will. Attitude is very important. Only you can fail the test, and only you should take responsibility for the failure.

If an “A” is what you crave, then tell yourself you won’t accept less. Prove it by doing what you need to gain the grade.

Setting your goals high just might give you the added push to reach them.