Stu(dying): Tips for Being More Effective and Efficient

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With finals and second semester creeping up, it’s time to start buckling down and hitting the books. However, even at the notoriously academic-driven Dougherty Valley High School, the brightest can sometimes fall short of motivation. Here are some tips to help you actually study effectively.


Just Do It

It’s been shown that starting a task can be the most difficult part. And thanks to the Zeigarnik Effect, we feel compelled to finish tasks that we’ve already started. This is due to the feeling of discomfort and pervasive thoughts that come with an incomplete task. It’s the same dissonant sensation you experience after watching a cliffhanger on your favorite TV show.

According to a study conducted by the University of Toronto, our brain fears big projects and often fails to commit to long-term goals. Interestingly enough, our brains will attempt to simulate real productive work by avoiding big projects and focusing on small, mindless tasks to fill time instead. Like how instead of finishing those notes you have to take, you get distracted by Instagram or Netflix for an hour.


Divide and Conquer

Break up an assignment into smaller tasks.

This will help make it seem more achievable and allow your brain to get into a productive mindset more easily. Instead of listing ‘Work on research essay’ as a daily goal, try something more tangible and definitive such as ‘Finish thesis statement’ or ‘Find additional sources’.

More time doesn’t necessarily equate to better work. Instead of working longer, try working smarter. Spend your effort on overcoming the most daunting tasks first.


Organization

Make sure to keep track of assignments, deadlines, and important test dates in a planner.

You can even go as far as planning out a studying schedule, detailing when and for how much time you plan on delegating to studying different subjects, as well as listing what goals you hope to accomplish after each session.

The more structure in your study habits, the better.

A study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that students who imposed strict deadlines on themselves for assignments performed far better (and more consistently) than those who didn’t.


What Are The Best Study Methods?

Flashcards have been proven to be excellent for memory reinforcement. Whether you go old-school and reach for physical flashcards, (0r opt for digital resources like Charades and Quizlet) there is no denying the effectiveness of them.

Writing helps to stimulate the part of the brain associated with memory retention, so taking notes is a very effective.

Try learning information as if you are preparing to teach the content.

This changes your priorities and causes your brain to organize the information in a more logical, cohesive, and coherent structure.


How Long Should I Study For?

It’s more effective to study in smaller, but more focused periods of time followed by breaks.

According to Dr. John A. Caldwell, Ph.D., “short breaks between longer working sessions resulted in a 16% improvement in awareness & focus“. Knowing that you have a break can also act as a motivational tool.

A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that when you know a break is on the horizon, you won’t try to ‘pace yourself’, but will instead be more inclined to take on the most difficult tasks. This works because your brain in better at encoding information to the synapses in short, repetitive periods of time.

And, you are more likely to finish tasks as you are relying on disciplined schedules and not merely willpower, which is an exhaustive source. A multitude of research has shown us that discipline is best maintained through habits, not through willpower.

Instead of a 3-hour cramming session, a 90 minute study session followed by a 15-20 minute break has been shown to be the most effective as this schedule tends to sync up more closely to our natural energy cycles and ultradian rhythms.

Studying at around the same time each day will also help to create a routine for your brain to adapt to. That way, studying will become more habitual.


Lastly, don’t be afraid to fail or not get a concept right away. Making a mistake causes neurons to fire and builds new pathways in your brain, allowing it to expand. Meaning, those mistakes are actually making you smarter in the long run. This is also why you should not be afraid to challenge yourself.


Works Cited

Caldwell, John A., Ph.D. “Sleep Deprivation and Psychomotor Performance Among Night-Shift Nurses.” AAOHN J AAOHN Journal 58.4 (2010): 155-56. 17 June 2008. Web.
Ciotti, Gregory. “The Science of Productivity.” Sparring Mind. N.p., 19 Oct. 2015. Web.
Davies, Sam Thomas. “The Zeigarnik Effect: How to Overcome Resistance to Starting New Habits.” Sam Thomas Davies. N.p., n.d. Web.
“Procrastination, Deadlines, and Performance: Self-control by Precommitment.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, May 2002. Web.

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