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Mastering the Art of Productive Study Habits: A Student’s Guide

January 29, 2024Back to Learning Centre
Vanessa Tiberio
Vanessa Tiberio

We’ve all been there before: there’s a big midterm or final exam coming up in a week, and you know you should probably start reviewing your notes. But as soon as you begin studying, you become distracted. The material isn’t sinking in as much, and you don’t know how you’ll have enough time to prepare for your test.

While studying is something students are pretty familiar with, studying effectively is not always the case. Mastering the perfect study routine is something you have to practice and implement. As someone with a pretty good grip on studying, here are some of my best tips for being more productive at studying.

Block out time to study

Between classes, doing readings and handing in assignments, it could be difficult to find time in the day to study for those pesky tests coming up. This is why my favourite thing is building a study schedule in advance.

The first step to establishing this habit is knowing how much time you realistically need to study for a test. For example, you may need one week to study for a midterm but only one day to study for a quiz.

Once you know the time you need to study, you can choose how many hours to study in a day. I like to break up my study time into one or two-hour chunks. Be realistic here — if you know you can’t focus too long, keep these chunks smaller and always give yourself short breaks to keep your mind as fresh as possible (more on that below!).

Using the calendar app on your phone or computer, you can insert these chunks of time into your daily schedules when you have downtime. Make sure to set a reminder about 30 minutes to an hour before the block of time. This way, you will be reminded to study and have no excuses not to.

Remove all distractions

Studying is made ten times harder when your phone keeps dinging with notifications or the noise outside your window keeps taking your focus away. The best way to be productive when studying is to remove all distractions in your space.

I like to put my phone and laptop on the “do not disturb” setting when studying so that I don’t receive any notifications that distract me from focusing. Alternatively, you can fully shut off your phone or put it as far away from you as possible if you know you can’t help yourself but check it every so often.

You can also remove distractions in your physical environment by going to a different space to study. A change in scenery helps me buckle down and focus on my tasks. I’m a huge fan of studying in quiet libraries or cozy coffee shops.

The best thing to remember is to do what works for you. Not everyone finds it easy to focus in silent spaces, so be sure to test out and consider the environments you feel most comfortable and productive.

Set goals for your study session

Studying can feel daunting when you have a ton of material to learn by a certain day. This is why I always set certain goals for each study session to make it seem more manageable.

For example, if I set aside forty-five minutes to study for my next politics quiz, I know I want to have the entire previous unit down-pact by the end of that session.

Your goals can look different — maybe you want to review your notes for thirty minutes today and then start memorizing for two hours tomorrow. Whatever it may be, set a goal at the beginning of your study session, so you know exactly what you need to accomplish.

I also like to physically write these goals down in a planner so I can cross each one off my list when they are done. Few things top that rewarding feeling as you physically cross off each item.

Use the Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is my favourite way of ensuring I stay focused when studying. Rather than forcing myself to focus for hours on end, I like to use this method to break up my time and incorporate breaks into my sessions.

This technique is a time-management strategy that breaks up your studying periods into 25-minute stretches of focused work. After 25 minutes of focusing, you are to take a five-minute break. After four consecutive focusing sessions of 25 minutes, you can take a longer break of around 15 to 30 minutes. You can continue repeating this method until your study session is over.

Taking breaks when studying is a great way to refresh your mind and give yourself time to absorb the material. So make sure you prioritize taking those breaks when you are studying.

I like to track my progress with a Pomodoro Google Chrome browser extension. You can also download an app on your phone.

Play Lo-fi music

When I study, I often find it too distracting to listen to regular music. But, at the same time, I find it hard to concentrate when my study space is absolutely silent. This is why I use Lo-fi music.

This genre of music combines hip-hop melodies with slow tempos and relaxed moods. The absence of lyrics makes it easy to concentrate, and the chilled-out melodies relax the pre-testing jitters. There are many great playlists on YouTube or Spotify that I love to throw on to keep my attention locked on studying.

Alternatively, piano or other classical music is also great to put on in the background as it doesn’t contain lyrics. Some people even prefer to listen to white or brown noise. Find what works best for you, and incorporate it into your routine.

Bottom line

When it comes to building a productive study schedule, you need to find what works best for you.

Make sure to remove any distractions that will take you away from what you need to do and create an environment conducive to focusing. Start small — try one of these tips to see what feels right. Happy studying!

Vanessa Tiberio
Written by Vanessa Tiberio

Vanessa Tiberio is a third-year journalism student at Toronto Metropolitan University. Vanessa has experience in video production, radio, broadcast and digital journalism. Vanessa is passionate about politics, social justice, arts, culture, and travel. She seeks to provide transparency and share stories that deserve to be listened to.