Self-study is an important part of getting the most from your education and the best possible results on your exams. What’s more, the amount of self-study you’re expected to do typically increases as you progress through the educational ranks.
Here are our top tips for ensuring that your study sessions are as efficient and effective as possible.
Plan a Smart Study Schedule
When you study is an important consideration, in terms of both the time of day and the spacing of your sessions. Research suggests that spacing study sessions over a longer time period is better for the retention of information. For example, it’s better to spread 12 hours of study across four weeks than to cram it all into the week before an exam (Winerman).
It’s also clear that students work better at differing times of day. A night owl may find studying into the small hours more productive, while some early birds will prefer to get their study sessions done first thing. This comes down to personal preference and the time of day you feel you have the most energy and best concentration levels.
There are so many possible distractions for today’s students that it can feel like a miracle that you get any studying done at all! The internet is, of course, the biggest and most infinite distraction, but most people also have 24/7 access to their favorite TV shows and are constantly reachable by text, messaging apps and/or social media. Consider muting your notifications and installing an app or software that will let you block your access to the internet for a set period of time. Freedom is a popular one.
Where you decide to study can also impact productivity. Is the chatter of the local coffee shop really conducive to retaining information? And while the library might be an obvious choice, are your peers going to be a distraction? Consider keeping it simple with a quiet bedroom at home, where family members are likely to leave you undisturbed if they know you’re studying.
Prepare Clear Notes
Any study session will only be as good as the materials you’re using, so it’s important to get these right. Your tutor will be able to advise on the best textbooks and study guides and direct you to the sections that are most relevant. If you’re studying from your own notes, these need to be easy to read and understand. Look into different note-taking methods (such as the Cornell Method) and consider which one will best suit the subject and your learning style.
If your study session involves research for a particular essay or paper, clear notes on your sources will help when it comes to creating your Chicago style annotated bibliography or a works cited page in MLA or APA style.
Set a Timer
Timing your study sessions can help improve your motivation and focus, putting a clear cap on your study period rather than keeping it an open-ended task. But what should you set your timer to? Many work to the 50:10 rule, taking a ten-minute break for every 50 minutes of study. However, research by the Draugiem Group found the magic formula for productivity to be 52:17 (Evans). Conversely, the popular Pomodoro technique advocates a 25:5 work to break ratio (Cirillo).
Of course, people naturally have different concentration cycles, and trial and error is probably the best way to figure out yours. When your mind is wandering and you find it difficult to bring it back to the task in hand, it’s time to take a break. Keep in mind that you may have to build up your self-study endurance, especially if you’re habituated to checking your phone.
There are lots of timer apps available for smartphones and computers, which let you set your own timings. Look at Tomato-Timer.com for your desktop or the Focus Keeper app.*
Plan a Reward
A study done by the Vienna University of Economics and Business (Gerhard) showed that even small rewards can motivate students, so self-rewarding for successful study sessions is a win-win! Plan to go see that movie with a friend or order your favorite pizza for dinner—just make sure that you finish your study sessions first!
*Disclaimer: Chegg does not endorse Tomato-Timer.com, Focus Keeper or any other specific applications named here.
Winerman, Lea. “Study Smart.” American Psychological Association. http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2011/11/study-smart.aspx
Evans, Lisa. “The Exact Amount Of Time You Should Work Every Day.” Fast Company. Mansueto Ventures LLC. 15 Sept. 2014. https://www.fastcompany.com/3035605/the-exact-amount-of-time-you-should-work-every-day
Cirillo, Francesco. “The Pomodoro Technique.” Francesco Cirillo. Cirillo Consulting. https://francescocirillo.com/pages/pomodoro-technique
Furtmüller, Gerhard et al. “Even Tiny Rewards Can Motivate People.” Harvard Business Review. Harvard Business Publishing. 7 June 2016. https://hbr.org/2016/06/even-tiny-rewards-can-motivate-people-to-go-the-extra-mile