How do we study?
One of the primary tasks for college students is learning new information that will move us toward achieving our professional and career-related goals. But sitting down to focus, learn, understand, and remember new and complex information can be challenging. When we sit down to study for an exam, we must activate our attention and memory to learn and retain information.
Attention is the ability to actively process specific information in the environment while tuning out other details. Sustained attention is our ability to concentrate and focus on one task for a continuous amount of time. Selective attention is the ability to choose what stimuli to attend to while tuning out external (i.e., noises, notifications) and internal stimuli (i.e., our own thoughts).
Once you are attending to your study material, many students struggle to retain the information they are attempting to learn. Memory refers to the psychological processes of acquiring, storing, retaining, and retrieving information. The goal is to store newly learned information into long-term memory and then retrieve it later, like during an exam.
The following are several strategies to help improve your ability to study by enhancing your attention and memory:
- Organize: Create a designated space where you can keep all your school-related materials, like a specific shelf or bin. Try using a planner or online calendar to keep track of important due dates. You may find it helpful to make checklists or set reminders to complete tasks.
- Limit Distractions: It’s harder to focus and retrieve information when you are in a distracting environment. When you are trying to study, find a place that is calm and has limited distractions. Create a study space that is relaxing and appealing to you. Clear off clutter from your desk if you prefer to study at home or find a quiet space in a library or coffee shop to study and work on assignments. Turn your cell phone on airplane mode to limit the temptation to check social media, emails, or text messages from friends.
- Take Breaks: We can only focus and attend to a task for so long. While studying, try to take a 10–15-minute break every 30 minutes. Get up and stretch, take a walk, or grab a snack before sitting back down to study.
- Chunking: Chunking is a tool to help you better remember information. It involves learning small portions of a concept and later putting them together to form a whole. An easy example is remembering a phone number. Instead of trying to memorize all 10 digits individually, chunk them into groups of three or four.
- Categorize: Placing information into categories makes it easier to remember. For example, while studying for a history test, you may be trying to remember events that occurred during specific decades. To help you remember, categorize the information by decade and focus on one decade at a time.
- Make mnemonics: Making mnemonics about the material you are studying is another way to help you remember and recall important information. For example, if you are trying to remember the names of planets in the solar system, you may create the mnemonic: My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Noodles. The sillier and more creative the easier it will be to remember!
- Study in Groups: Studying in groups can be a great way to test your knowledge. Try explaining concepts out loud to other group members to see how well you understand the information you are trying to retain. If you can teach concepts in a way that others understand, it means you’ve got a solid grasp on the material you are being tested on.
Study Strategies to Practice!
- Music to help you focus
- Customized timer to take breaks
- Online planner
- Video on making mnemonics
- Study plan worksheet
Are you up for the Challenge?
As you begin studying for your next exam, we challenge you to put these strategies to the test! Try to implement three of these study strategies the next time to you sit down to study. This could mean turning your phone off while studying, setting timers to ensure you are taking enough breaks, or calling up a group of friends to study for an upcoming exam. Developing more productive study habits will help you on the path toward achieving your academic and career-related goals!