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Know your mind - Tailoring a study strategy to you.

Updated: Dec 30, 2017

I love learning, but I always found it difficult to motivate myself to study at school. I was very unproductive and procrastinated. It was not until my university days that I realised that my approach to study was totally unhelpful! The following are six helpful tips I gathered from my Psychology training, personal experience and through working with my clients to improve their study habits (tips I wish I knew earlier)…


1) Study what you find interesting

If we are genuinely interested in a topic, we will generally be more motivated to start studying it and be more willing to work harder, producing better results. You cannot always choose what subjects you study, but when this is possible, choose your passions and interests! If it is not a subject you enjoy, try to think about how it might help you to achieve a goal of personal importance in the future – almost always, the topic will be an important link in a chain of learning that is necessary to achieve your long-term goal.


2) Value your studies

A common complaint I hear from student clients (and one I had myself) is ‘What’s the point of studying this? When will I ever need to know this in the future?’ Quite often the subjects where I had these complaints ended up being relevant to my tertiary studies and future career. However, at the time I had no idea why, and therefore didn’t value the knowledge I was gaining. If we feel this way about a subject, we are less likely to want to devote time and effort to learning it.

If you notice yourself thinking like this, it might be helpful to ask your parents or teachers how the subject applies to everyday life, or what career you might use the knowledge in. This may help you understand why studying it today might be a valuable use of your time in the long run.


3) Use chunking

This means breaking large tasks down into small, achievable ones. Many students have a ‘To Do List’ that reads like: ‘(1) Write history essay; (2) Complete design project; (3) Write science report’. The problems with this are that: (1) Each task is likely to take days or weeks to complete, which often makes it feel overwhelming; (2) It tells you nothing about how to start or complete the task; and (3) If you don’t have a big period of free time available, the task may feel too large to complete in the time you have, so you are more likely to put it off until you have more free time (which could be never). Chunking is a helpful remedy for these problems. If you chunk an assignment at the beginning, you have a clearer idea of what you need to do and how long it might take. You can also make better use of shorter periods of free time (e.g. you don’t have time to complete your whole essay, but you do have time to read an article and make notes). It is also very satisfying to tick lots of things off your ‘To Do List’ each day!


4) Productive procrastination

Some people have a very short attention span and the idea of working on a single task for hours is unrealistic and overwhelming. These people tend to get easily distracted and engage in other activities when they are supposed to be working on a big task (e.g. flicking between Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and the fridge, when they are supposed to be writing an essay).

If this sounds like you, that’s OK! There is nothing wrong with having a short attention span. It just means that you might prefer to work on many different tasks within a single time period, rather than a single task. You may find it easier to keep your mind engaged in a productive way if you give yourself many useful tasks to complete in your free time. That way, you can flick between your maths homework, your history essay and learning a new chord on the guitar, rather than flicking between an assignment, social media and browsing the contents of the fridge!


5) Plan fun

People who schedule fun activities tend to be more motivated during designated study time. If all we see are books, classrooms and computer screens for weeks at a time, it can be quite demotivating to work efficiently towards an academic goal, as we feel like we have nothing to look forward to. It is important to reward ourselves when we have completed academic goals, and ensure they we take regular breaks to see friends and do the things we love. Often the more free time we set aside to study, the less productive we are.


6) Stay healthy

Every part of our body is connected and is influenced by every other part. So if our tummy is not happy, our brain usually isn’t. Therefore, it is important to do regular exercise, and eat regular, healthy meals. Do not overdo your consumption of caffeine, as this can throw the body’s natural sleep cycle (and other systems) out of whack. The body was also not meant to sit still all day, and so we tend to feel restless, lethargic and unproductive if we are sitting down too much. There is always time for a short walk, no matter how much work you have! This will often help you think more clearly and process the information you have been studying.


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