Who else is familiar with that feeling of skimming through the first few questions on a daunting exam, and having no idea what any of the answers are? That feeling is marked by a great deal of stress. And the act of test-taking is, by itself, a great source of stress in the lives of so many other college students right now. Therefore, I have outlined 7 study habits, in order of importance, with the intention of passing exams and ultimately reducing stress levels. Where to begin?
Habit 1: Write a to-do list every day.
The first habit that I would suggest practicing — that is, if you want to succeed in school — is prioritizing. Write down everything that you need to do for the day on a sticky note or whiteboard. This helps to provide you with a sense of focus and structure.
Habit 2: Don’t cram.
That’s right — don’t cram. It’s futile and never works, so always begin studying days and weeks in advance.
Habit 3: Remove distractions.
If I failed a test, I’d be lying to myself if I said that I studied “as much as I could.” Really, that’s a simple rationalization for how much I didn’t study.
Ninety nine times out of one hundred, the reason you perform poorly on an exam has nothing to do with the difficulty level of the class, the professor who teaches the class, or even your work ethic. The main culprit in this scenario is the degree to which you were distracted at the time of studying for the recently failed exam.
Distractions are the biggest problems you face in school because they consume large portions of time that could otherwise be spent expanding your knowledge. For instance, you could be intensely focused on rereading a chapter in your anthropology textbook. All of a sudden, you’re notified of a new video in your subscription feed on YouTube. And there goes 15 precious minutes of your day.
To maximize your chances of academic success, you need to eliminate as many distractions as possible. Avoid social media and turn off your phone. If you feel the need to take breaks, do so intermittently.
Habit 4: Don’t study passively. Study actively
This habit is essential if you want to achieve perfect grades. While studying, you need to extract meaning from the material, utilizing as many brain areas as possible that are involved in the formation of memory. For example, you cannot passively flip a few flashcards and expect to fully memorize all of the terminology. Real memorization requires a key understanding of the terminology rather than a familiarity with it.
Recall, don’t recognize.
Habit 5: Answer custom exam questions in your own combination of words, and provide examples.
So how do you study actively if you can’t just sit back and flip flashcards? In this college student’s humble opinion, the best method of active studying is to compose test questions that you believe are the most likely to appear on an exam. Next, answer each of them in your own combination of words and provide them with examples. Rather than just copy definitions straight from the textbook, put your own spin on the terminology while also gathering information from alternative resources such as YouTube, a tutor, and your professor.
Habit 6: Take it one step at a time.
The RAM of a computer is not without its limits. When it’s trying to run too many programs at once, the CPU slows down and sometimes stops working altogether. Your brain functions in a similar way. (Though, your brain is infinitely more powerful and complex than a modern computer.)
When you have five upcoming exams in the same week, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed. However, if you spend too much time worrying about everything that you need to get done, you risk getting absolutely nothing done. I know firsthand what that’s like. I would look at my “To Do” list for the day and think there was no conceivable chance that I could finish everything in time. I would become stressed about not studying enough, and as a result not study at all.
The main takeaway from this habit is not to fall prey to “analysis paralysis,” a state-of-mind characterized by the persistent need to overthink. Sufferers of analysis paralysis fixate on what ostensibly can and cannot go wrong, and they’ll think about a problem so much that they miss the opportunity solve it. By now, you can probably understand why this manner of thinking isn’t conducive to academic success. For if you try to accomplish too much at once, you won’t get nearly enough done in the long term. So take it one step at a time.
Habit 7: Believe in yourself.
This seventh habit might sound cliché, but it’s so very true: Have faith in yourself. Research indicates that when students believe they are going to fail their upcoming exams, they do exactly that. They fail. It all comes back to the idea of the self-fulfilling prophecy in that our expectations of future events are what cause them to manifest in reality. If Sandra believes that her upcoming chemistry exam will be impossible to pass, she might not even bother studying for it. Why should she? She’s going to fail it anyway.
So what does Sandra do? She doesn’t study, and thus she fails the exam. However, if she convinced herself that she was more than capable of passing the exam, she might have been motivated to make an effort (perhaps by brushing up on old material and reviewing concepts.) Therefore, 99.99% of the battle isn’t studying to receive the ‘A,’ but rather believing that you’ve already received the ‘A.’ Furthermore, even if you study vigorously and don’t receive the grade that you wanted, you can at least take comfort in knowing that you didn’t just give up on the off chance that you might have failed.
- Refrain from using Adderall or other high-powered stimulants to study. As much of an added boost that stimulant drugs can provide, the risks for dependency and addiction aren’t worth it.
- Get a good night’s rest after a long study session, as it helps your brain sort through newly learned material and facilitates the formation of long-term memories. In addition, avoid drinking booze before bed. Alcohol decreases the quality of deep sleep and thus disrupts the learning process.
- Failed a test? Too bad. Try again next time and don’t give up!
- Understand that your test-taking abilities do not reflect who you are as a person. You have much more to show for yourself than a few letter grades.
And that’s it: The 7 habits for academic success. Do you practice any of these habits already?