L ook! There’s a bird in the library.
OK, fine. There isn’t, but at least that created a break from reading.
According to CU psychologist Glenda Russell, students should take a break — even if it’s just looking outside for a minute or walking to the bathroom — every hour when studying.
Students often forget this important aspect when preparing for an exam, because of the stress of having numerous assignments at the same time and feeling like they have to push to get it all done. Yet taking the time out for a breather can improve the efficiency of your studying and help later on with remembering it all.
“Countering fatigue and resting your eyes is important.” Russell said.
Although that seems to be a pretty general study rule, Russell acknowledges that “everybody has unique aspects to how they learn.”
Whether that is by way of reading, writing, listening, or talking out loud, the most crucial thing is that the student be aware of what works best personally.
Where to study
It is better to learn in an environment similar to where testing will be administered, which is called “state dependent learning,” according to Russell.
The library is a good place in which to prepare because although it offers quiet areas, it also forces the students to hold concentration during small distractions like coughing or people walking by.
“When I get distracted, I look up and see other people studying, which is motivating” said Jamie Anderson, a sophomore environmental studies major, on why she prefers studying in the library.
Changing study locations can also be helpful because that provides balance and a good break, according to Russell, and it also means you will adapt more easily to different testing locations. Sometimes a change in scenery is all that’s needed to rejuvenate your motivation; however, Russell also added that changing the study scenery is only needed if studying really isn’t working in one place.
How to study
“Focusing is a skill that gets better with practice,” according to Russell.
So studying with Eminem yelling at you from your headphones or the TV on in the background can be detrimental in the long run. If some sort of background noise is preferred, Russell said light music without words has been found to be beneficial for students.
Another way to try to counteract a waning attention span even after changing locations and music, is to mix study content. Russell said there is a real advantage in that method because each form of studying requires different kinds of focus. (So when reading, start writing or making note cards in between every few chapters.)
“Group studying is really useful” as an alternative study method, said Russell.
She said one of the best ways to learn about something is to teach it. Group studying also holds individuals more accountable, and can relieve the stress of thinking they’re alone in being confused on a subject, according to Russell.
“When I study in groups I do a lot better,” said junior humanities major Emily Ferrufino-Coqueugniot. “It really helps if I’ve been absent or don’t understand something.”
What to avoid
The “state dependent learning” concept applies to personal states as well. A test should be taken in the same emotional spectrum it was studied in, and so Russell advises trying to leave personal issues outside the classroom. You should let your boyfriend forgetting your nine-day anniversary mess up your eye make-up and your grades.
Russell said this also applies to drugs: studying high is never a good idea, and certainly doesn’t mean you should take the test high. (Sorry Boulderites, but keep the “natural” study aids away from the library.)
Even alterations that seem harmless, like caffeine, can be a hindrance later on. The Starbucks baristas can be really convincing when they offer you an extra shot, but practice the words “no thank you.” Too much of the stimulant causes people to feel jittery and anxious, which in turn affects focus.
Timing also has to be taken into consideration because only so much can be done in the hour before an exam. Cramming, as a consistent study method, is not good and will actually harm the brain’s ability to retain information.
“It’s not an ideal way to study,” Russell said. “It produces a great deal of anxiety and sub-optimal performance.”
Since anxiety is one of the two most frequent issues reported by students, according to the CU psychological office, try to save yourself from it and plan out days to study in advance- both alone and with a group. And please, step away from the fifth Red Bull.