How to study intentionally: Take breaks and actively engage

Nadia Porras studies in the McKee Library. Thursday, November 4, 2021. (Photo by: Nicole Sabot)
Nadia Porras studies in the McKee Library. Thursday, November 4, 2021. (Photo by: Nicole Sabot)

Written by: Brandon Grentz

Editor’s Note: The following article is written by counseling professionals from Counseling Services in partnership with the Southern Accent.

Studying is a part of the college experience. Whether that experience is good or bad can really influence the trajectory of success and fulfillment in learning. When developing study habits, you may need to ask yourself: What is working? What is not working? And, can I find a better way? 

The first part of developing or refining study skills is making sure you are setting yourself up for success by creating an environment that removes barriers and encourages good habits. This can be planning out your study time, organizing the order of classes to study for and possibly changing where you typically study. Find an environment that minimizes distractions and improves focus such as a library, study room or your dorm room — as long as it is not too distracting. 

Studying also needs to be active. Reading and re-reading textbooks or notes is not actively participating with the material. Reading or taking notes is a precursor to studying, but the more you engage in the actual information and concepts, the more it will stick. 

Ideas to actively engage in studying include: 

  • Explain the material to someone else to test how well you can articulate the concepts.
  • Connect the material with examples from your own experiences in life, which will make associations stronger and more readily accessible for recall.
  • Try to create study guides organized by topics or concepts.
  • For more detailed content, work the problems or formulas and explain why they work. 
  • For more abstract or theoretical concepts, explain the big ideas to compare and contrast. 

When you need to study for multiple classes and feel overwhelmed, make sure you are spacing things out and breaking them down to decrease the stress. Space out your study times over several shorter periods rather than long tiring ones. The quality of study comes from how you spend your study time rather than how long you are studying. Several shorter periods can add up to the same amount of time as an all-nighter, but the efficiency will improve. 

Use the analogy of a golf swing during 18 holes on a golf course. If you swing full 100% capacity from the first hole, it may go well, but maintaining 100% walking all 18 holes and fatigue will lead to inaccurate swings that feel off by the end of the day. Instead, if you swing at 80%, you are much more consistent and will be able to maintain it longer without feeling exhausted. 

Studying isn’t always fun, and it can take trial and error, but remember that learning how to study is just as much a part of education as the content is. Take this time to invest in your present and future success as these skills can transfer into your work. 

Remember to take breaks and study smarter, not harder.

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