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How to make the perfect study session

By Michael Crump | 14 July 2016

Work smarter not harder”, or so the saying goes.

Looking to infuse the new year with new study smarts? Stay on top of your game in 2016 by reinventing your habits when you hit the books. There are a number of things you can do before, during and after a study session that will not only make it a slightly more enjoyable experience but also a fruitful one. So without further ado, here’s how you can develop the perfect study session:

Before: Do your homework

Not that kind of homework .

We’re talking about the prep work you can do that will help you study more effectively. For starters, find out what kind of learner you are, so you can play to your strengths and soak up all the information that’ll help you pass your big assessment.

Are you a visual learner? Do you need to take diligent notes, or can you recall everything your professor said from memory? Whether you need flashcards or a recorded lecture to get your wheels turning, here are a few suggestions for studying according to your learning preference. Try incorporating them into your next session to see if it works for you!

Next, make sure you have enough time to study all your material. According to the American Psychological Association, “Spacing out study sessions over a longer period of time improves long-term memory.” If you have a few weeks before your next big assessment, dedicate a little time every day to learning the material, rather than staying up all night prior to the exam. Each time you return to the material, you have a better chance of retaining what you were trying to learn in the first place.

An even smarter idea? Take the time to move between subjects during a single study session. This tactic, called “interleaving,” keeps your brain on its toes and prevents you from trying to cram too much information about one subject in one sitting. It’s a challenge, but a worthwhile one.

Before: Your surroundings matter

Some lucky people can do anything while a TV set blares in the background and a radio announcer dissects the latest Taylor Swift single. For the rest of us, finding the perfect study mojo probably involves a certain amount of peace and quiet. Here’s what you should do to optimise your study time:

  • Find a quiet room, whether that’s your bedroom or the darkest corner of the library.
  • Limit potential distractions, which might mean turning off your Facebook account for a few hours or putting your phone out of sight until you’re finished studying.
  • Clean your study area of all materials unrelated to study – having a neat and tidy work surface helps you focus.
  • Double-check your syllabus and assignments to make sure you have everything you need to work. You don’t want to get halfway to the library only to realise you’ve left your class notes buried beneath a pile of laundry!

pretty study space, minimalist style

Before: Know what you’re about

How much time do you have? How much work do you have to do? There’s a difference between blocking out time to go over material for an assessment and writing a ten-page essay or completing a project for the end of your course.

Once you schedule your study time, set a few realistic goals to help get the most out of your session. Goal setting will keep you focused on the task at hand and give you a clearer picture of what you can reasonably accomplish within one hour – or three.

During: Hit the books

Re-reading material and reviewing your notes helps – but only a little. Consider these study alternatives, in order to maximise memory retention and ensure that you know your material inside and out:

  • Quiz yourself. Develop questions from your reading that test how well you remember important concepts.
  • Switch it up. Shuffling the order of your study materials will ensure you’re actually learning, rather than associating answers with a particular pattern.
  • Write from memory. Outline a chapter in your text or study guide without consulting your notes to see where the gaps in your learning are.
  • Study with a buddy. Teaching someone else a concept can help improve your own understanding of the material.

During: Take a Break

Sitting still for more than an hour will start to weaken the mental resolve of even the most dedicated student. Pretty soon your study session will involve more daydreaming about the end of term than actual learning. It’s ok to take a break – in fact, taking a few minutes to re-charge every hour or so will help you accomplish more in the long run. Here are a few easy ways to break up long stretches of studying:

  • Stretch at your desk
  • Try some deskercise!
  • Take a bathroom break
  • Go for a short walk
  • Re-hydrate to keep your mind alert

During: Fuel Your Learning

If you plan on studying for a few hours at a time, make sure you have the right kind of fuel to keep you going. Bring along some healthy snacks, like carrot sticks and peanut butter or a handful of almonds, to stave off hunger pains until you can take a longer break for lunch or dinner.

What you drink matters, too. Rather than gulping down coffee like a fiend, try to limit caffeine intake so you don’t suffer from a nasty slump when the effects wear off. Instead, try drinking lots of water to stay hydrated, alert and focused.

green juice

After: Reward Yourself

Did you manage to hit all the goals you made for your study session? Did you ace the quiz you asked your roommate to give you? Give yourself a little treat for all the hard work you just did, whether that’s a piece of candy for every chapter you reviewed, or a movie with friends after your time in the library is over.

If you have something to look forward to at the end of your session, you’re guaranteed to study smarter and harder – and be more willing to hit the books again in the future.

After: Make More Time

Remember when we suggested that you need lots of time to cover lots of material? If you’ve just spent the last few hours hitting the books for a big assessment, take out your diary and find time later in the week to return to the material. Scheduling your study time in advance will ensure that you’re prepped and ready by the day of your big exam.

pocket watch

After: Evaluate Your Strategy

If you try out a few of our alternative study strategies, make note of what worked for you and what didn’t. Maybe your group study session got a little out of hand and you ate pizza instead of actually learning how to calculate compound interest. Or maybe outlining a study guide from memory cemented your coursework in your brain for good. Whatever your study strategy, make sure you know what works for you, so you can study smarter the next time. Another key tip is to learn to prioritise more effectively, which could turn your productivity levels up to 11. 

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