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Study Habits



It pretty much goes without saying that good study habits are important to success in high school and college. But that doesn’t mean they’re easy to acquire. How do you develop good study habits? Read on for some hints.

The Three Essentials

Good study habits boil down to three things:

  • Making the time
  • Finding the place
  • Doing the work

Let’s examine each of these three elements.

Doing the Work

Sometimes people (including parents) can act as if studying is a monolithic thing that can always best be done at your desk in your room with no noise or at the kitchen table immediately after school. Under some circumstances, these may in fact be the best options. But its good for everyone to recognize that studying involves many different kinds of tasks and that different settings and times may work better, both for the task and for the person doing it.

The best way to begin is to look at what the studying involves. Math homework is pretty straightforward, and if you sometimes need Mom’s help, the kitchen table might be a fine spot so she can help you and your brother as needed. Memorizing or reading might call for a quieter place. Writing a report might require a computer or a library setting. A project might require a workshop setting. It’s good to know when “the usual" - whatever it is for you - makes sense, and when it’s time to switch things up.

Making the Time

Some people need a break immediately after class. They need space in which to transition. Other people like to study a subject while it’s fresh in their mind. They prefer to go right out of class and into a study hall or library to complete their homework. Of course part of this will depend on your schedule of classes, but another part will depend on your choices.

Another aspect of the time to consider is how much of it you’ll need. The regular physics homework assignment may be pretty easy to gauge, whether “regular physics homework” in your particular case means one hour or twelve. But plotting out the time needed for a special project - a sculpture for art or a research paper for English - is harder to do.

Let’s face it: at the beginning of a long project that you’ve never attempted before, you’re only going to be able to guess at the time it will take. That’s why it’s always a good idea to start early if you can, because this means you can adapt to whatever develops.

We don’t think when we start something that we might have to go back to the beginning, but all kinds of problems (a poor choice of topic, a technology failure, etc.) can make it necessary to fall back and regroup. Having extra time makes this less of a problem than it would be otherwise.

A third aspect is how long you spend on something in any given session, as well as whether your session is straight through or allows for breaks. This will depend on the subject, your ability to focus, and what you find to be most productive.

Finding the Place

The same spot may not be the best choice for every studying task. Of course, if you’re studying tuba, you’re probably not going to practice it at your desk in front of your computer, but even with memorizing a poem, you may want to say it aloud which means finding a spot where you won’t disturb (or be disturbed by) others. Other types of studying may be just fine in company and, in fact, involve group contributions.

And then there’s just ambience. Some people may like an armchair for reading literature for class. Some may sit on their beds. Some may use a desk  chair or a bench outside. And some may prefer to study in the library.

Wherever you go, there are some things that you should consider about the place:

  • Noise level: Will it work for whatever task you have at hand?
  • Music: Some people can do some tasks with music as background. This doesn’t mean that everyone can or that music works as background in every situation. Consider the specifics, and make choices accordingly.
  • Other Distractions: Email, IM, and FaceBook don’t always have to be open, and your phone can be turned off. Make a decision about whether or not these items will disturb your work, and act on them.
  • Lighting: Is the study area well-lit enough for you to do what you have to do?
  • Comfort: Is the chair/bench/grass comfortable enough so that you’ll be able to focus on the task?
  • References: Is everything you might need to accomplish this bit of studying - whether a paperback dictionary or on online reference - close by, so you won’t have to take major breaks in order to seek support?
  • Accoutrements: Something to drink, snacks, and gum are common “study aids.” If you expect to benefit from these, you may wish to assemble them in advance to prevent interruptions.

Exceptional Circumstances

Of course, there may be times when you can’t take all of these considerations into account. If you have to baby sit for your three-year-old sister and do your homework at the same time, do some of it on the bus home from school, or do it while making the family meal, you’re going to have to get creative or adaptive in order to cope. But even then, stopping and thinking about the situation and what choices you have can help make the best of the situation.