Studying, The Double Edged Sword of Academia

Let me start off by saying that I am aware that different people learn in different ways, there’s no doubt about it. However, I am going to emphasize that reviewing academic material is done in the exact same way, regardless of who you are. At the high level, revision is in the name, re-iterating the newly obtained information and reinforcing it, either, in your semantic memory or in your procedural memory (there is an argument that can be made in saying one is better than the other for recall).

So that being said…. How come some people are able to revise and perform better, academically, than others?

Unfortunately, the answer to that question is very complex and influenced by many variables (attention span, access to ressources, learning environment… etc). However, in this article, I would like to touch on a specific aspect of studying and that is EFFICIENCY!. We can all agree that a studious individual is usually an individual that is well performing academically, but that does not mean that someone that spends all their time studying is performing well. So then, I ask again, “What differentiates a studious individual from someone that just spends plenty of time studying?”

The answer to that, my friends, is in these five tips (totally opinionated btw):

  1. Scheduling
  2. Pacing
  3. No Last Minute
  4. Consistency
  5. Initiative

Let us begin:

1. Scheduling

As I mentioned in my previous post, Time Management is a Virtue. For one to feel like they have control of their life, that individual will need to be able to understand the importance of allocating time slots for every activity that occurs in the work week.

I will briefly touch on the elements mentioned in my Time Management post, but here is a quick summary:

In short, get into the habit of using a scheduling tool (Google Calendar, Outlook etc.). These will serve to ensure that your devices do all of the thinking for you. You shouldn’t need to bother yourself with remembering due dates for assignements. Take a moment during the week to schedule each of your important dates on a scheduling assistant and set reminders in the following manner:

  • 2 weeks prior for Finals
  • 1 week prior for Midterms/Tests/Presentations
  • 4 days for Assignements and Quizzes
  • 15 minutes – 2 hours for Meetings (depending on level of importance)

Any person with impeccable scheduling skills should be able to handle any tasks thrown their way (within reason).

2. Pacing

PACE YOURSELF! Too many people think that gluing yourself down to your desk for hours on end and reviewing your school material is the solution to poor grades. In Marty Lobdell’s opinion, as well as my own, any student that forces themselves to study by hours and hours of reading and review, will end up despising the subject at hand (If that’s not the case, then this article might not be for you). By studying in short bursts of Flow work (25 – 30 minutes) and taking 5 minute breaks in between each bout, you are giving yourself the opportunity to refresh your focus. Much like a muscle, your attention span needs to be trained to endure long study sessions.

3. No Last Minutes

One of my biggest pet peeves is a person that leaves studying for the night before an exam. I can’t emphasize enough how destructive this is for your overall performance. Take it from me, as well as this BBC article, cramming for an exam the night before can severely impact your ability to recall the information during the test itself. In most cases, when people cram, they tend to mistake familiarity with memory.

To better prepare for an exam/test, try and stick to the following:

  • Space out your review sessions well in advance. – I prefer to set a 2 week cushion to allow me to properly study at my own pace (this can be different for you).
  • NEVER, NEVER, NEVER study the night before or the same day.
    • This was a tip given to me back when I was studying for the MCAT. When you study in the moments right before your exam, it is believed that you are training yourself to recall information in your immediate memory.
    • The whole purpose of studying is to be able to recall information from your long-term memory. By doing a last-minute study session (unless you are well versed in the topic), you will find yourself running into “Mental Blocks” during the test (Ever had the feeling where you were certain you knew the answer to a question, but just couldn’t recall the information?…. Yea… that)
  • If you want to make use of the time in the day preceding an exam, feel free to work on any other material that is not affiliated to the topic being tested.
  • Schedule (There it is again) the topics to be studied across that cushion period.
    • This takes a level of metacognition that is fairly advanced, but it’s good to get into the habit of knowing your own competencies in the effort it takes for you to complete a chapter/module in your courses.

4. Consistency

Consistency is one of those “background requirements.” I say this because it does not apply to study habits alone. Consistency plays a vital role in almost all aspects of life (be it: fitness, employment, education, competitions etc.). In the case of this article, I am referring to your ability to stick to your word. If you set yourself a specific schedule, then follow through with it (I guess in this case persistance is the right word).

A good way to stay consistent is to literally act against the most comfortable thought. More often than not, your mind will tell you to avoid doing work.

Additionally, you should always look to set yourself up for success. This means that you must minimize the effort it takes you to get started on each task. If you told yourself you were going to study those 5 topics today, then set all of that material in front of you. Most times, if you are forced to deviate away from that activity, you will give up all together.

A good example of the previous case is when we commit to working out early in the morning. In my personal experience, when I have my workout clothes already laid out along with the running shoes, I am more likely to commit to starting my workout than going back to sleep.

5. Initiative

I left the most obvious for last as it can be hard to provide actionable items on taking initiative. Essentially, you need to recognize that you are responsible for your own outcomes (In most cases. There are some outliers). Taking the initiative to realign the methods by which you study needs to come from within. No one will force you to improve your academic performance. That being said, I do believe that if you are reading this blog post or any post alike, then, by default, you are taking the initiative to better improve yourself, and to that I say “Good on you!”

With these 5 elements, I found myself capable of efficiently studying for my courses while keeping this busy schedule in check. This is one of the many variables that take part in the overall success of a student. I urge you to continue on this quest for self-improvement as we can all aim to better ourselves in this quest of life.

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