Figuring Out the Perfect Study System

Let’s begin this article with some hard truths. You will need to study (no matter how little you studied in high school), cramming rarely works, and without an organized approach to studying you may be dooming yourself to failure. University is a completely different level from your previous educational experiences. To have the greatest chance of success, you will need to have a system and stick with it.

Most importantly, studying needs to be a habit. Something that you do on a regular and frequent basis, under consistent conditions, and free of distraction. That said, there is no one perfect study system. Everyone needs to develop their own, tailored to their strengths and weakness (being honest with yourself, about yourself, is a requirement). Below are the qualities of a great study system. You may not need all of them, or you may need to add some personal touches. Let’s begin.

1. Consistency of time and place. The time when you study may vary from day to day depending on your schedule. Try to pick times that will be free of disruptions. If you are an early riser, mornings may work best. If you are a night owl, then late at night may be what works. You should also have a dedicated study space. It can be in your room or somewhere else, but it should be well-lit, reasonably comfortable, and free from disturbances.

2. Allow enough (but not too much) time. Try to plan your studying in blocks, covering no single subject for more that 2 hours. It is far better (from a cognitive-research standpoint) to have two one-hour sessions on a topic than one two-hour session. Also, 10 minutes mini-sessions are likely a bad idea. For retention, you will need to focus on the material for at least 30 minutes. Try not to exceed six hours total per day.

3. Plan a balance of activities. You are still human. You will need breaks. Time to go for walks, exercise, or just goof off should be part of your schedule. Don’t feel guilty about taking breaks. It is proven that it actually makes your studying more effective.

4. Study as soon as possible after a class. The quicker you begin reviewing material covered in class, the easier it will be to fill in any gaps in your notes. Also, repetition solidifies learning. By “re-covering” the material soon after class, you will be better able to retain what was taught. This will also support the next phase of study and save you time later!

5. Prioritize. This is where knowing yourself really matters. Do the most “unpleasant” tasks first. As we become fatigued, our will power weakens. If we do the “fun” stuff first, by the time we get to the difficult items, we may find an excuse to stop. So, do the ‘important and urgent’ tasks first, the ‘not important, but urgent’ things second, the the ‘important, but not urgent’ third, and finally the ‘not important, not urgent’ things last. If it helps you can draw yourself a chart to priorize your work using these headings.

6. Take good notes. When studying, some of the information will come from class materials, but a good portion will be from your notes. No matter the way in which you take notes (on a laptop, handwritten etc.) try to make them as complete as possible. This may include sitting in the front of the room so that you can easily see the instructor and are less likely to “lose focus” by checking something on your phone.

7. Set goals. Plan a short term goal of what you would like to cover in a given session. This will help keep you focused and prevent gaps in your review process. It also helps make the work less overwhelming. To be even better organized you can make these bite sized chunks part of a loonger term study plan.

8. Allow some flexibility. If something comes up that you cannot study at your regular time (university is supposed to be fun after all) don’t just miss those hours- trade them instead. Two hours of study can be swapped for two hours of relaxation later.

Incorporating these qualities into your study system will have you well on your way to developing a system that works for you. By making your study system a habit, it will be easier to do on a regular basis, and more effective. Time spent out of class, reflecting on what was covered, re-visiting information, and solidifying your learning are almost as important as attending class and will keep you feeling positive about your studies and your time at uni.

Copyright Ⓒ Juvenis Maxime 2023

Author: Kenneth Knox