Here’s some relieving news for students: when it comes to studying, sometimes less is more.
Though that may sound like the opposite of everything you’ve ever been told about how to be successful in school, studying strategically may be better for your brain, your body, and your grades than studying excessively.
Mental and physical breaks are important to keep studying enjoyable and practical.
Cramming and study-marathons are stressful and ineffective. Just like a sponge can only absorb so much water, no matter how long you let it soak, your brain can only handle so much information and hard work before it needs a little time to relax.
In your continual quest for good grades and academic balance, here are a few tips to setting proper boundaries for your study sessions:
Make yourself a schedule.
Making schedules and to-do lists is always a good exercise in basic organization and stress-maintenance. This way, you can set goals and expectations for yourself and pace your work accordingly – being sure to reward yourself and feel gratified when you achieve those goals.
As you embark on a study session, it’s helpful to set a timer that alerts you when it is break-time (and it’s helpful to not touch your phone or peruse social media during work-time, of course).
According to the University of Guelph library, a common time-block is 2 hours of work with a fifteen minute break. If that work-break ratio seems intimidating at first, that’s okay – you can always start with smaller segments and work your way up. Regardless, your study session will be more satisfying if you work as hard as you can (no distractions!) during work-time and play as hard as you can during your break.
Make sure your break is something drastically different.
Committing yourself to a serious session of calculus practice-questions or note-taking involves a lot of quiet alone-time and stillness. You’ll find yourself sitting and focusing for long periods with your eyes often fixed on a piece of paper or a computer screen. A refreshing break may look more like a quick walk around, a few stretches, fixing yourself a snack, or calling a friend. Taking a break that’s similar to what you already do – i.e., crouching over your phone or watching a bit of Netflix – won’t feel like much of a break at all for your body. A refreshing break should have you coming back feeling ready to work once more.
Vary the subjects you study.
If you have an avalanche of academia to sift through, it may be helpful to switch up the things you’re working on.
For your first time block, work on something tough (perhaps a subject or assignment you find challenging).
For the second time block, shift to something else that switches gears, like a subject that you feel passionate about or one that you find to be easier. This variation will keep your mind interested and will delay the feeling that your brain is an over-soaked sponge.
The American Psychological Association (APA) also deems this variation to be helpful in committing content to memory. Dr. Robert Bjork says that this process of varying content, called interweaving, can help one actually learn the content because students are then forced to learn and re-learn information. APA writes that the “the key may be in the learning, forgetting and relearning that helps the brain cement the new information for the long-term.”
Listen to your body.
Sitting for long periods of time has been long-proven to be detrimental to your overall health. Interspersing your periods of studying with stretches and exercises can help your keep your mind fresh and your body healthy. If your neck or back starts hurting from too much time spent hunched over a desk, listen to your body – get up and stretch, or at the very least, walk around.
Prevention.com provides a number of stretches that are great for countering the negative repercussions of sitting for a prolonged period of time. For instance, a supported back bend will help strengthen your back and stretch out the sore muscles from being stagnant. A star reach can stretch the whole body and relax the tension in your joints. Body and mind work together to create a strong whole; it is important to be mindful of both when studying and moving towards the goal of becoming the best you that you can be.
Nourish your body.
Especially in exam season, it’s easy to let some of the vital components of basic health fall by the wayside. Good nutrition can take work, so it’s often one of the first things to be cast aside.
UMWellness indicates six nutrition tips for more productive studying:
- stay hydrated
- eat breakfast
- avoid emotional eating
- choose whole grain carbs
- pick lean protein, and
- fill up on fiber.
All of these tips added together will boost your energy and aid your focus. Not only will your body thank you for nourishing it with the nutrients it needs to function well, but your grades may thank you as well.
It’s also important to remember that energy drinks, although sure to give you an energy boost, are not particularly healthy choices and may lead to a later crash of exhaustion. If you drink coffee, remember that caffeine affects how the body handles its water intake and may leave you feeling dehydrated. Be sure to drink more water than usual while drinking coffee to aid your studies.
The student life involves a lot of hard work and self-discipline. Though it may seem like you’re going to reap the benefits of study-marathons and cramming in the long-run, it’s important to remember that balance, breaks, and fun are vital aspects to getting good grades. Your mental health is an important part of who you are and how you experience course content, your school experience, and the world around you. Be sure to work hard, but remember to set healthy limits and reward yourself for achieving your goals.