Writing Guides & Tips

4 Great Study Habits (And One Bad One)

In order to meet with academic success in high school or college, it is important for the student to develop good study habits. This sample essay provided by Ultius will consist of an overview of some such habits. The essay will discuss four specific study habits that students should adopt in order to optimize their academic performance, and it will also discuss one study habit that students should avoid at all costs.

Study habit #1: Turn off your phone

Productive studying requires concentration: you need to think deeply about what you are reading or writing, and you need to pay sustained attention to the material in front of you. In this day and age, though, smartphones and social media make it very difficult for many students to concentrate in this way.

A key study habit that good students should adopt consists of turning off their phones during designated study times. For example, if the student decides that he will study from the hours of 8 PM to 10 PM, then he should turn his phone off for those two hours. This may seem like a drastic step to many readers. However, it is fully supported by the research on the effects that smartphones tend to have on human cognition. Those effects are in general, very detrimental to successful studying.

Can’t put your phone away? Try one of these 10 study apps.

In one somewhat frightening study, for example, Ward, et al found that the mere presence of one’s smartphone has a “brain drain” effect and prevents one from concentrating to the fullest of one’s capacities. In this experiment, the researchers had the subjects take tests meant to measure certain aspects of concentration and intelligence.

The study found that even having one’s smartphone in the same room had detrimental effects relative to having the smartphone in a different room altogether.

This happened even when the subjects did not report thinking about their smartphones, and refrained from the temptation to check their phones. The conclusion that seems to emerge is that,

people have become subconsciously attuned to their smartphones, such that its very presence draws attention from its owner, without the owner even necessarily being aware that this is happening.

Out of sight, out of mind

Ideally, a good study habit would consist of not only keeping one’s phone off but even leaving it in a different location altogether. But if this is not possible, then at the very least, turning the phone off during studying hours should be a key priority.

Likewise, Stothart et al, have found that smartphone notifications can seriously derail concentration, even in the event that the student ignores the notifications:

“Although these notifications are generally short in duration, they can prompt task-irrelevant thoughts or mind wandering, which has been shown to damage task performance” (893).

When a notification on your phone goes off, you can choose to ignore it; but this still means that for at least a moment, your attention went to your phone, and then you had to use further cognitive energy to get your attention off your phone and back to your studying. This not only wastes time, it can also pull you out of the “flow” of your previous concentration. Again, the conclusion that emerges is that it is not good enough to just not look at your smartphone; it is important to have its presence out of your awareness altogether. Anything less could impair your capacity to study in an effective way.

It is understandable that many students today may balk at this proposed good study habit. After all, we now live in a day and age when scientists are discussing nomophobia, a type of smart phone seperation-anxiety, in a serious way.

“the feeling of panic or stress some people experience when they’re unable to access or use their mobile phone” (Sulleyman, paragraph 2).

This is an important psychological issue in its own right, but the important point is that such an addiction to one’s smartphone can get in the way of studying in an optimal way. Discussing ways to break smartphone addiction would be beyond the scope of the present essay. The only conclusion that can be drawn here is that breaking it is in fact important to realizing your full potentials as a student.

Study habit #2: Pace yourself

When you are planning your study time, it is important to know that studying for 10 hours in one session may not have the same effects as studying 2 hours for each of 5 sessions. As Loveless has put the matter:

“Successful students typically space their work out over shorter periods of time and rarely try to cram all of their studying into just one or two sessions. If you want to become a successful student then you need to learn to be consistent in your studies and to have regular, yet shorter, study periods” (paragraph 1).

This also generally means that you will need to develop time management skills. You will need to ensure you make time every day for studying, so that you can easily get all of your studying done, when it needs to be done.

This is similar to common sense regarding how the brain works. If you study material over and over again over a span of days or even weeks, then the material has a chance to sink further and further into your brain, so that the material will become second nature to you when you have to take an exam or write an essay. There is only so much that your brain can absorb within any given timeframe.

Retaining information when studying

If you push yourself to hard, then your efficiency will naturally go down. Hour 8 of a 10-hour study session would almost certainly be less productive than hour 2. This is why it’s important to pace yourself. If you do get into a time crunch, though, then Ultius may be able to help you. For example, Ultius has several guidelines and study resources that you could use to streamline your studying experience and get more done with less time and effort. We also have writing samples available that you can peruse in order to figure out how to write your essay yourself.

A note about procrastination: Time management may be important; but you may also be a natural procrastinator, This does not necessarily have to be a problem. Rather, the important thing may be figuring out how to procrastinate in a productive way. As Tierney has suggested,

“positive procrastination” need not be an oxymoron (paragraph 1).

Legitimate psychologists have suggested that some chronic procrastinators just work really well under pressure—and moreover, such procrastinators often get a great number of other things done while they are avoiding doing what they are supposed to be doing. In short, procrastination itself could potentially become an effective time management strategy, if that’s how you happen to be wired.

It is important to note, though, that clearly not everyone can pull this off: for every successful procrastinator who takes care of all his studying right by the bell, there must be several others who just don’t study as much as they needed and thus fail their coursework or exams. If procrastination has gotten the better of you, Ultius may be able to help: for example, we offer editing services that can take some of the pressure off having to complete an essay on time.

We also provide article and chapter summaries, which you could use to quickly learn the key points of your study material, if you have run out of time to directly engage with all of that material yourself.

Study habit #3: Establish time and space to study

Another good study habit is to stop thinking about studying as something unusual in your life and to instead think of it as just another part of your everyday routine. You eat lunch every day without any problems, indeed, you probably don’t even think about the fact that you’re doing it. Studying should become the same way. It is important to start thinking about studying as an ongoing process rather than just a one-off event.

According to Pierre, the average college student studies 17 hours a week (paragraph 2). So, if you are in high school and intend to go to college, or if you are in college and intend to pursue higher degrees, then studying will be a part of your life for at least many years to come. You may as well make your peace with it now and commit to integrating studying as a normal part of your everyday life.

Know where to go for valuable resources

You may want to consider utilizing Ultius as a part of your study routine for your academic future. Among other things, Ultius provides guidelines on how to produce a wide range of academic documents, including movie reviews, lab reports, and capstone projects. You could use these guidelines in order to save time and move forward with a good sense of how your work should turn out. In addition, our blog has several articles that may be helpful to you—including this present article on study habits, as well as articles on things such as how to overcome writer’s block.

In short, we have resources that could provide crucial assistance to you over the course of your entire academic career.

One aspect of establishing a good routine may consist of identifying study spots for yourself. It can be hard to study effectively at home. According to Scanner, there are a couple reasons for this.

The first is that in general, ambient noise (like the clattering and background buzz at coffee shops) tends to be more conducive to creativity than absolute silence (paragraph 2).

More compellingly, Desender, Beurms, and Bussche have found through empirical research that

concentration may be contagious: that is, people tend to expend more effort when they see other people expending effort—or maybe even when they are just in the presence of other people expending effort (624).

This is admittedly a little mysterious, both most people can nevertheless probably confirm it on the basis of their own experiences. Being surrounded by other people who are studying does in fact seem to often improve one’s own studying morale.

Compartmentalization likely also has something to do with your effect. It can be difficult to study in your room, due to the simple fact that you do everything in your room, which makes it hard to set aside a specific time when your room is a study space and not some other kind of space (such as an entertainment space). If you have a coffee shop or other location where you go only to study, then this can help click your brain into the right gear and let it know that now it is time to prepare to study and not time do any number of other things.

Something similar could also be said for setting aside a specific period of time every day for studying. If you begin studying (for example) every night after dinner, then this could get to a point where dinner itself would classically condition you to start getting ready to study. In short, it’s all about teaching yourself a new routine and embedding good patterns into your brain.

Study habit #4: know Your limitations

When you finish a study session, you want to feel a sense of achievement—of having learned something as a result of the effort that you put in. So, in your planner, you may want to mark what you hope to accomplish as a result of each study session. This could be reading a certain number of pages, or memorizing a certain list of vocabulary, or whatever else. Discrete goals can help you structure your study experience and give you the certainty that you are not just wasting your time.

This evidence can also help motivate you to stick with your study regimen, since you will know that the regimen is producing real, measurable outcomes. Depending on your temperament, you may not need this: some people just like studying, and they are happy enough with just putting in the time. But many students may need further confirmation than that.

Avoid getting burned out

This leads into the fourth key study habit, which consists of just knowing yourself and how your mind operates. This point has been made above, for example, with the issue of procrastination: some people can do it in an effective way, and other people can’t.

Something similar can also be said when it comes to listening to music while you are study. There seems to be a general consensus that music with lyrics is distracting for many students, since the words from the music interfere with the words you are supposed to be absorbing from your study material (Castello y Tickell, paragraph 2).

Past that, though, the consensus breaks down: whether music helps with studying or gets in the way seems to depend on the individual mindset and temperament of any given student, with accurate generalizations being very difficult to make. And you may even be a rare case where music with lyrics actually helps you concentrate. The most important thing is thus having some self-knowledge about how you operate and what you need in order to study in an effective way.

No all-night study sessions

Every student has probably been in this situation: there is a big exam in the morning, so you decide to stay up all night and study as hard as you possible can. (Large amounts of coffee and energy drinks probably fit into this picture.) This can seem logical at the time, since the main idea is that you will use the final hours before your exam to absorb as much information and knowledge as you possibly can, so that you will perform as well as you can on your exam.

The serious problem here, though, is that such a student always seriously underestimates the effects of sleep deprivation on the human brain. The basic fact is that if you stay up all night to study for your exam, then your head will be swimming in the morning, and you will have to take your exam in that frame of mind.

O’Brien has discussed this problem in a humorous way:

“Have you ever seen an athlete go through sleep deprivation before the big game? Does a politician stay up all night before his big debate? Does a company’s CEO go sleepless before her annual meeting with the Board of Directors? Of course not. It would be ludicrous. How is an all-nighter before a test any different? Simply put, it’s not. It’s stupid. It’s highly self-destructive” (paragraphs 7-8).

Sleep is key to successful studying

If you want your brain to work well during your exam, then sleep is an important part of preparation for achieving that objective. You would be a lot better off knowing only half the material but being able to take your exam with a refreshed mind than “knowing” all of the material but being too sleep-deprived to access it in an effective way.

Of course, you should develop your time management skills so that you don’t end up in this situation in the first place. (And you should never procrastinate, unless you know how to do it well.) But if you do end up in this situation, then sacrificing your sleep before an exam will almost always prove to be a terrible idea.

If you find yourself face to face with a potential all-nighter before your exam, you may want to consider asking Ultius for help. For example, Ultius can provide you with sample drafts of essays on topics of your choice, so that you can see an example of how a certain essay should be written and model your own after it. We also have a lot of study resources available through our website, and these resources could help you optimize the efficiency of your studying session. All of these options could help you avoid  the dreaded, all-nighter.

Bonus tip: Seek out technology for writers for extra writing help.

Works Cited

Castello y Tickell, Sofia. “Should You Listen to Music While You Study?” USA Today. 10 Sep. 2012. Web. 13 Oct. 2017. http://college.usatoday.com/2012/09/10/should-you-listen-to-music-while-you-study/.

Dessender, K., S. Beurms, and E. Van den Bussche. “Is Mental Effort Exertion Contagious?” Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 23.2 (2016): 624-631. Print.

Loveless, Becton. “10 Habits of Highly Effective Students.” Education Corner. n.d. Web. 13 Oct. 2017. https://www.educationcorner.com/habits-of-successful-students.html.

Oxenham, Simon. “Do You Get Your Best Work Done in Coffee Shops? Here’s Why.” New Scientist. 27 May 2016. Web. 13 Oct. 2017.  https://www.newscientist.com/article/2090717-do-you-get-your-best-work-done-in-coffee-shops-heres-why/.

Pierre, Kathy. “How Much Do You Study? Apparently 17 Hours a Week is the Norm.” USA Today. 18 Aug. 2014. Web. 13 Oct. 2017. http://college.usatoday.com/2014/08/18/how-much-do-you-study-apparently-17-hours-a-week-is-the-norm/.

Stothart, C., A. Mitchum, and C. Yenhert. “The Attentional Cost of Receiving a Cell Phone Notification.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 41.4 (2015): 893-897. Print.

Sulleyman, Aatif. “Smartphone Separation Anxiety.” Independent. 16 Aug. 2017. Web. 13 Oct. 2017. http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/smartphone-separation-anxiety-nomophobia-why-feel-bad-no-phone-personalised-technology-a7896591.html.

Tierney, John. “This Was Supposed to Be My Column for New Year’s Day.” New York Times. 14 Jan. 2013. Web. 13 Oct. 2017. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/15/science/positive-procrastination-not-an-oxymoron.html.

Ward, Adrian, F., Kristen Duke, Ayelet Gneezy, and Maarten W. Bos. “Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity.” Journal of the Association for Consumer Research 22 (2017). Web. 13 Oct. 2017. http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/full/10.1086/691462.

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