5 Tips to transform your study sessions
With January and February fading in the rear-view, O-Week is over and students across the country are back to knuckling down and sweating about schoolwork and I’ll admit, I’m beginning to sweat about it too. As well as studying and parenting full time, I also work part time and I’m not the only one juggling so many work and personal commitments along with my study. According to the most recent statistics out of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, more than 60% of Australian students are working while they study. So although I’m fortunate enough to work at Adminovate, a small company owned and run by a fellow mother, in a flexible virtual admin role (which affords ample opportunity to refine my language skills), I haven’t always worked in roles that so seamlessly complement my major - and doubt that many people do. Even with this advantage, I still find myself getting overwhelmed navigating the most difficult obstacle I face in my efforts to be an effective academic: actually studying.
Personally, the first term of school – and now that I’m a tertiary student, the first study period of uni – has always been the rockiest for me. Even with good study habits, it seems like the hurdles of settling back into a routine and understanding the expectations of my educators leaves me at a slight disadvantage every year. No matter what, I always feel like after my first lot of grades are returned, I spend the rest of the semester playing catch up. With that in mind, I’ve comprised this quick list of the best study tips I’ve collected over the years. Everyone studies differently, naturally I don’t expect everything that works for me to work for you but hopefully some of these tips can help you shake off your study stress and be your most studious self.
1- Colour code your notes
This is not just creative nonsense, I swear. It’s supported by fascinating research science into how the brain and our memories, respond to colour. Research shows that you are more likely to memorise notes that are made in coloured pens, rather than just all blue or black ink. Mixing up the colours of your paper can do wonders too (I print all my handouts on coloured paper). If you are particularly observant you may be able to notice the way that some colours make you feel. For example, many people find purple or cool colours soothing, which can negate some of that study stress. Do you attach good memories to a particular hue? Treat yourself to some new paper or pens in that shade! For note taking I recommend glitter gel pens to spice things up and keep you feeling a little extra. The glitter has not been scientifically proven to improve memory, but it will bring back fond memories of all the letters you wrote your crush in primary school.
2- Set up your space
This is what I call the “Marie Kondo” study approach – While I do not recommend throwing out everything that does not spark joy (textbooks are too pricey to replace), I do recommend moving away everything that is not conducive to learning. Though, contrary to popular belief, I truly don’t believe it matters where you study. I have a super cute study desk in my living room that does nothing but collects dust, because I realised shortly after assembling it that I really am just more comfortable studying in my room. You don’t need to burn sage or do a rain dance to cleanse your space but crack open the disinfectant wipes and make sure your laptop is clean. Gather your important things like notes, glasses, books and anything else that you NEED for study and get rid of the rest. If you sit in bed, tidy your bedside table. If you sit outside, take everything with you (including sunscreen) so you aren’t breaking focus or using a lack of preparation as an excuse to procrastinate.
3 – Read tips on memorisation
All writers have their own tips and tricks for keeping focused and most have some pretty good suggestions for improving memorisation, which is a valuable skill to hone. Poets and theatre students are especially good at memorisation and have a range of different methods for memorising entire verses, pages or even whole chapters. Most involve making mental links between words and paragraphs to develop a pattern that imprints itself in the memory. There are a whole range of different suggestions though, so be sure to experiment – not every technique will work for you but when one does, it will revolutionise the way to retain information, trust me. Look at places like Quora or other forums. While there are articles that detail different people’s methodology as well, I have found it more helpful to wade through online communities of like-minded people, especially other students.
4 – Find a study buddy (or a cheerleader)
The best thing you can do when studying is find someone to support and motivate you. I study by distance so for me there is no classroom and no physical peers to chat to or compare notes with. Even if you do study on campus or at school though, it can be just as easy to lose interest in study or the drive to turn in your work. It is human nature to be social. People are feedback machines; we crave someone to bounce ideas off and if you don’t have someone who is eager to facilitate that for you, it is easy to feel defeated by the pressure and mental exhaustion of learning.
So if you don’t have a rock solid gang of study buddies happy to hit the library with you at every opportunity (I do not, most of us do not) the second best thing that you can do for yourself is find a cheerleader. At exam time for example, when I am particularly stressed, I send my best friend photos of my notes. She isn’t studying and has no real interest in the intricacies of Applied Linguistics, but she is happy to send me a message saying “Oh my God, that looks awful, is that supposed to be words? I’m so proud of you!” and that is enough to reassure me that I am not crazy, my subjects can be hard and I’m still doing a good job just by trying. When I have an assignment that feels stupid (it happens a lot), I call her to whinge and she validates that it’s stupid and then calls me a little later to ask how it’s going. Beating the isolation will help you conquer the procrastination and you’ll feel reassured knowing you have someone in your corner.
5 – Reward yourself
I am reward motivated and I think most people are. From childhood we typically rely on positive or negative reinforcement or a combination of both to dictate which behaviours are ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Positive reinforcement encourages us to replicate the behaviours that are acceptable and useful. I’m sure everyone remembers how good it felt to be a kid and finally get to eat the lollies, go to the movies or stay at a friend’s house because we listened to mum and stayed on our best behaviour. That feeling is an increase of dopamine production and the reward system in our brain that makes it all happen is easy to stimulate. That ‘high’ that you crave from being rewarded is simple to trigger – just set yourself a goal and achieve it. Where you can maximise the effectiveness of this tip relates to what you are rewarding. Some people need that reward ‘fix’ after every speed bump and that is okay – reward yourself weekly when you have completed all your study, or after each assignment. For those who prefer the long-haul rewards, treat yourself at the end of each year or each semester and make it something worth looking forward to. If you can afford a plane ticket, buy one. If you are on a budget, rally your closest pals, pack up a tent and spend a week soaking up some sun and salty air, or gift yourself something you’ve been saving for and looking forward to. Suss out some festival line-ups or eye some stocktake sales, you deserve it!
Business Support Specialist at Adminovate, University Student and Writer.