By: Nora Klein ‘24 (she/her)
Studying is difficult during a normal year, but with the stress and regulations that come with a global pandemic, it can sometimes feel impossible to find the right motivation and methods. With the final weeks of classes upon us and finals looming in the distance, it’s important to figure out what helps start the studious mindset. Luckily, there are several research-proven tips that will give you a better chance at acing your next test, even under these different circumstances.
Find a good spot for you to study.
The first step in studying is finding a place to actually do it, and there’s no one good spot — it all depends on how the environment of your study spot might distract you. Some people are more distracted by the silence of a library than the commotion of a busy coffee shop. On campus, some good spots to study outside of your dorm include inside Union or the library (pick a floor — whatever fits your mood and attention span for the day!), outside or inside at Nummit, outside in a hammock or on a picnic blanket (which you can now rent from Union), or at a table in a courtyard. The Dana-–Watson Courtyard is particularly pretty and serene. If you want to study in your own room so you don’t have to wear a mask, just make sure you’re ready to study when you start! Try to mimic the environment you usually like, and don’t study in your bed because that can make it harder for you to sleep.
Pay close attention in class and take good notes, then review the information right after class.
Making a conscious effort to focus during class and taking notes in a style that suits you obviously means you’ll have to study less later. Using abbreviations, writing in your own words, and writing phrases rather than full sentences also helps you retain more information. However, you should also set aside a few minutes after class to review your notes while the information is still fresh in your mind to retain more of it! Making an ongoing study guide through the semester helps reduce stress when it comes time to review everything before the final.
Talk to someone else about what you’re learning.
Explaining the material in your own words as if you’re the teacher helps you realize what you actually know and what you specifically need to focus on. Make connections between concepts, and find something cool about the material if you can so you’ll enjoy talking about it and, by extension, so you’ll enjoy studying it.
Study with friends, but know when to study by yourself, too.
Studying with friends can be a good opportunity to hang out, especially when chances are limited these days. As long as you dedicate some time to studying, it can help you to focus on your own work since those around you will be focusing too. Also, if your friends know the material or are learning it too, you can talk about it with them so you’ll remember it better later! Even though having friends around is sometimes a very necessary stress reliever, you also have to be able to gauge when you need to heavily concentrate and work alone. Don’t put off your work until the last minute because you didn’t take time to study by yourself.
Study while you’re tired, and then go straight to bed.
Studying while you’re the most tired actually helps your brain retain information! Your memory processes work best while you’re sleeping, so your brain will retain more information and new skills once you fall asleep. You can read more on this phenomenon here.
Online learning is tough in lots of ways, but one benefit is that no one could tell if you tried something weird to remember that one bit of information you just can’t recall during a test. Research shows that walking backwards before having to recall previously reviewed information helps your brain trigger a memory response.
Know when to give yourself a break.
If you start your work enough time ahead of the due date, talking smaller chunks of time over several days is a better way to learn information than cramming it all into the night before. You’ll get more sleep and be less stressed — a definite win-win situation. Setting a timer for working and then another for a small break — 20 or 25 minutes to study and then a 5 or 10 minute break — actually helps you focus more than forcing yourself to focus for hours on end (because let’s be honest, has that ever really worked?). Especially with the stress of COVID-19 hanging over us, it’s so important to be kind to yourself, even if that means taking a break for a whole day just to let your mind rest. Sometimes it’s hard to remember and practice, but your mental health really is more important than anything else. Practice self-care!
Actually set aside time to study, use your time wisely, and implement the study tricks you’ve been hearing for years. We all know we’re supposed to get more sleep, spread out studying, and review information in certain styles, but the real problem comes from not using any of the advice when you actually need to start studying.
Additionally, the Academic Access and Disability Resource Office has guides and counseling available to help students manage time and study during a pandemic. https://www.davidson.edu/offices-and-services/academic-access-disability-resources
Good studying will differ from person to person, but decide what works best for you and regularly stick to your plan. Good luck!