We’ve all been there. After every summer, the dreaded school year starts with a new set of pens, thick stacks of notebook paper, a heap of binders, and hopefulness for a successful year. Although things may start off well, the vast majority of students are quickly sucked into distractions, other commitments, and most of all – procrastination. Grades that started out stellar may start to fall, and suddenly, motivation seems to crumble more with every mechanical pencil lost in the hallway.
Although we all know what we should do, browsing endlessly through the Instagram explore page always seems like a good idea at the moment. Reaching a mental state to make the right decision has proven to be the toughest part of success for most students. Thankfully, there are a few things you can do beforehand to not only quell bad habits but also form good ones to carry throughout the entire year.
Skip the Study Music:
- Problem: A habit of many students is to plug in earbuds or throw on their new Air Pods before cracking open a textbook. Now, thousands of “study playlists” are available – fooling many into thinking they are beneficial. Logically, it is sensible to believe that calmer or instrumental music would aid in the study process.
- Solution: Research has shown that whether you’re listening to Kanye West or Mozart, it’s better to just listen to silence(2). If you literally cannot function without some form of noise, choose music that doesn’t contain lyrics or a melody you will hum along to. Subconsciously processing the lyrics even in instrumental covers harms your ability to recall what you learned(3).
Target Time Suckers:
- Problem: Each person has a handful of things that distract them the most. Time suckers can be a variety of things such as social media, Netflix, video games, phone calls, or even friends. Although we like to think multitasking is efficient, the act prevents us from fully focusing on either task due to the brain having to switch gears constantly. Data shows multitasking reduces accurate recall, prevents absorption of information, and halts productivity(1).
Solution: For online or phone distractions, download an app or Chrome extension (E.g. Forest) to block off certain websites/apps for a set period of time. This can allow you to study for an hour without distractions and then give yourself break time as a reward. This can be especially useful for people that tend to grab their phones frequently in the middle of working or studying.
Passive VS Active Studying
- Problem: A lot of studying and homework assignments can be reading sections in textbooks or watching review videos online. You might have experienced a situation where you finished reading a certain page but later realized that you had no idea what you had just read. This is a consequence of reading/watching passively without interacting with the content.
- Solution: Practice retrieving the information that was presented to you shortly after you learned it. By forcing yourself to recall facts, you can test your retention and easily remember the information later on. In fact, students that spend more of their time studying with retrieval strategies are 50% more likely to remember the information they’re studying(3). This method is more effective than note-taking and will help immensely with testing.
The Forgetting Curve
- Problem: When we first learn a new piece of information, the memory is fresh and recalling that fact can be rather simple. When asked to repeat that same fact after a period of one week, it can be much more difficult due to failing to review the information. This can happen especially for unit tests or final exams when many students realize that the entire year of information has slipped their minds.
- Solution: By reviewing notes or information learned within 24 hours of initially seeing it, you stop the possibility of forgetting up to 80% of the information learned(2). Within a week, a short burst of the review will become enough to retain the information well. As time goes on, you can start to leave weeks or months of gap time between reviews and still have full retention. This can be particularly helpful for avoiding cramming and all-nighters as a last-ditch effort.
These are just a few tips that I found most useful in improving the efficiency and frequency of my studying. In addition, it’s important to keep a healthy fun to work balance to avoid burning out and high-stress situations which can be common for high school and college students. As you get back into the swing of classes and homework, be sure to try out these tips and be aware of your study habits. Sometimes a few little changes can reap huge rewards.
 Fries, Dan. “6 Clever Study Hacks That Students Are Using To Get Ahead in 2017.” Collective Evolution, 14 June 2017, http://www.collective-evolution.com/2017/06/14/6-clever-study-hacks-that-students-are-using-to-get-ahead-in-2017/.
 Chan, Grace. “How to Study Smart: 7 Scientific Ways to Get Better Grades.” EduAdvisor, EduAdvisor, 2 June 2017, eduadvisor.my/articles/7-scientific-ways-to-get-better-grades/.
 “How To Get Better Grades With 17 Scientific Strategies.” Smart Student Secrets, 28 Nov. 2017, http://www.smartstudentsecrets.com/get-better-grades-17-scientific-strategies-hack-studying/.