Study habits refer to the consistent practice and approach to study, on a regular basis, to enhance academic performance.
The good thing about a habit is that once you do it on a regular basis, it becomes easy. So, your job is to get into this habit early. Once you’re into the habit, university becomes easy (well, easier).
Good study habits that I recommend include getting into the routine of heading to the library (or a similar study space) to study without distractions, chunking your studies by subject, and using spaced repetition for things that require rote memorization.
I also recommend studying with friends – such as by testing one another – whenever possible.
The integration of efficient study habits enhances academic performance and motivation to study. By developing effective study strategies adjusted to your personal learning style, you improve concentration and retention of information – and concentration, more than time spent studying, is found to be a key factor for success (Nonis & Hudson, 2010).
Good Study Habits
1. Time Management
Time management refers to being able to efficiently allocate your time so you don’t run out of time, and so you have enough time to allocate to all important tasks. As a basis, you could initiate a dedicated study schedule, specifying the time slots for each subject. For instance, you might want to allot your mornings for theory-heavy subjects like Anatomy, and save the afternoons for practice-oriented subjects like Clinical Skills. Don’t forget to also block time for regular study breaks and social events. This is crucial to prevent burnout and maintain longevity – university is a marathon, not a sprint.
2. Using Active Reading Strategies
This is the process of engaging with the material by asking questions and drawing connections. Instead of passively reading your texts, you can participate more actively by summarizing the information in your own words, teaching it to someone else, quizzing yourself, or creating visual aids like diagrams and mind maps. As Issa et al. (2012) found, reading relevant information daily is an effective study habit for improving grades.
3. Setting Realistic Goals
This strategy involves laying out achievable objectives for each study session or topic. Setting goals not only keeps you focused, but also helps gauge your progress. For example, instead of aiming to read an entire biology textbook in two days, you might target mastering one chapter per day. I recommend setting both short-term study goals and long-term study goals using the SMART Goals method.
Successful students often prioritize tasks based on their deadlines and degree of importance. You might follow the Eisenhower Box method: divide your tasks into four categories, namely, important and urgent, important but not urgent, not important but urgent, and not important and not urgent. For instance, an upcoming exam translates into an important and urgent task, hence it would be first on your list.
5. Spaced Repetition
This strategy involves studying information over incremental intervals instead of cramming it in one sitting. You might review your notes on the day you learn something, then again in a couple of days, then after a week, and so forth. There are even apps like the Anki flashcards app that have a built-in spaced repetition algorithm that can space how often ideas are presented to you.
6. Creating a Suitable Environment
Each individual’s ideal study environment may differ based on personal preferences. Some people need complete silence, while others work better with some background noise. If you like silence, the quite section of a library is a good place to start – I recommend making it a habit to go to the library at your university as often as possible. Conversely, if you feel background noise helps you to concentrate, consider studying at a cafe. But the key is to ensure your environment is right for you. As Ogbodo (2010, p. 229) argues: “Where to study is as important as what to study and how to go about studying.”
7. Taking Breaks
Integrating regular short breaks into your study pattern can boost your productivity and mental agility because it decreases distractions during focused study time. And this is important. As Walck-Shannon, Rowell and Frey (2021) found, “students reported being distracted about 20% of their study time, and distraction while studying negatively predicted exam performance.” So, let’s avoid that – by splitting our time between strong focus, then rest. Typically, the Pomodoro technique is a popular method for this, where you study for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break. After four such cycles, you take a longer break of 15-20 minutes. During your breaks, you can engage in some light activity such as stretching or walking to invigorate yourself.
8. Maintaining Physical Health
Eating well, getting regular exercise, and ensuring enough sleep are often overlooked aspects of efficient studying. Research shows that a balanced diet, physical activity, and proper sleep improve cognitive functions, including memory and concentration. You may want to establish a regular sleep schedule, incorporate a balanced diet, and schedule regular exercise sessions each week into your routine.
9. Using Technology Wisely
Technology offers a range of tools that can streamline your study process. For instance, you can use apps for time management (e.g., Rescue Time), note-taking (e.g., Evernote), or spaced repetition (e.g., Anki). While these apps can be beneficial, remember to keep checks on screens’ disruptive nature and the habit of digital distraction. As practice, try turning off your phone’s notifications when you study, or set ‘Do Not Disturb’ intervals.
10. Review and Revise Sessions
Regular review of study materials aids in long-term retention of information. You can allocate specific time slots each week to revisit old notes, attempt self-test papers or engage in group discussions. For instance, you might dedicate your Sunday mornings to revising everything you’ve covered during the preceding week.
11. Active Writing
Transcribing information demands active engagement, thereby reinforcing your understanding and memory of the subject. You might opt to rewrite complex concepts in your own words or diagrammatically represent intricate processes. For example, instead of merely reading about the human circulatory system, consider drawing it out with brief annotations.
12. Seeking Help When Needed
Understanding when to seek help is an underrated study habit. If you find yourself struggling with a subject, don’t hesitate to approach your professors, peers, or study groups for clarification. You might also seek online resources such as academic forums or educational websites. Remember, it’s better to clarify doubts initially than to have misconceptions hamper your overall learning.
13. Mindfulness and Focus
Mindfulness, or present-moment awareness, can help enhance your comprehension and retention during studying. You could practice mindfulness by removing distractions, concentrating on the task at hand, and making a conscious effort to absorb the material.
14. Integrating Study with Real-Life Scenarios
Applying the theoretical knowledge learned during study sessions to real-life instances can facilitate a deeper understanding. You might relate basic principles of economics to household budgeting or chemistry to cooking. This practice can help convert abstract concepts into tangible examples.
15. Regular Self-Assessment
Implementing regular exams or quizzes to assess your understanding and memory can be a direct way to monitor progress. You can either use ready-made quizzes available online or design a short assessment yourself. As you answer, mark out the areas you struggled with for further review. This method will help you know where you stand in your preparation and what areas need extra effort.
16. Employing Mnemonics
This involves using techniques to retain and retrieve information. The method could be as simple as creating an acronym or conjuring up a relevant mental image. For example, in recalling the taxonomical rank in biology – Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species – you might use the well-known mnemonic phrase: “King Phillip Came Over For Good Soup.” Examples of additional mnemonic techniques include the method of loci and memory linking.
17. Incorporating Understandable Examples
Since abstract concepts can be confusing, associating them with relateable analogies can help you grasp the idea. This technique depends heavily on your creativity and could be as simple as linking a literary theme to a popular movie plot. Ensuring your examples make sense to you is vital.
18. Varying Study Methods
It is beneficial to avoid monotony and experiment with multiple learning techniques. This can include oscillating between solitary studying and group study sessions, or alternating between text-based learning and audio-visual aids. For instance, following a hefty reading session, you might want to watch a related documentary or podcast on the topic. Switching up strategies not only prevents burnout but also caters to different facets of your learning style.
19. Note-Taking Strategy
Effective note-taking is a skill that helps in better understanding and remembrance of knowledge. You should decide a note-taking strategy which could be outlining, mind mapping, or the Cornell method, and stick to it. For example, you might use the Cornell Method, which divides the paper into notes, cues, and a summary section for enhancing retention and review.
20. Regularity and Consistency
Consistency is the cornerstone of strong study habits. Establishing a regular routine that allocates specific periods for study each day leads to better academic performance. For instance, studying for two hours per day consistently is more effective than cramming for fourteen hours once a week.
21. Engage All Senses
Engaging multiple senses aids in strengthening your memory of the subject matter. This could involve reading aloud, rewriting notes, creating visual aids, or even using software to convert text to speech. The goal is to consume the information through as many sensory channels as possible to maximize retention. For example, if you’re studying foreign vocabulary, you could listen to the pronunciation, read the definition, write the word several times, and visualize an image related to it.
22. Reflective Learning
Reflective learning involves regularly taking a few moments to contemplate what you’ve learned. This process ensures you understand the main concepts and helps you evaluate how effectively the learning material has been understood. For instance, after reading a section on World History, take a moment to think about what questions have been answered and what new questions have arisen in your mind about the topic.
23. Preparing for the Next Class
Reviewing the material that will be covered in the next class helps make the class more productive and understandable. By having prior knowledge of the topic, you can better participate in class discussions and raise insightful queries. For example, if tomorrow’s Physics class covers Electromagnetic Waves, you might want to read the corresponding chapter tonight.
24. Constructive Procrastination
While complete avoidance of procrastination is the goal, sometimes it’s unavoidable. Constructive procrastination involves doing another task that also needs to be done when you feel like procrastinating. If you find yourself unable to study Civil Law, consider switching to another pending task, such as completing your Mathematics assignment. This way, you remain productive while giving in to the urge to procrastinate.
25. Visualization Techniques
Visualization involves picturing the information in your mind, which can significantly improve memory and recall. For instance, when studying Anatomy, envisioning the body parts, systems, and processes can enhance your understanding. If you’d like to explore this strategy more, read my article on the visual peg-word system for memorization.
26. Listen to Music Without Lyrics
Listening to music while studying is a controversial topic. Some people think it helps them to achieve a flow state, while most research suggests that “media multitasking” is a distraction whether we realize it or not (Xu, Wang, & Woods, 2019). Generally, I recommend that if you do like that background nose, try to listen to music without lyrics, like lo-fi playlists from YouTube, which act as background noise and could potentially prevent your mind from wandering.
27. Study with Friends
Thalluri (2016) found that “study buddy support groups” significantly support studying. Friends can keep each other accountable and help motivate one another. And, according to social learning theory, working in groups helps us to reinforce knowledge. For example, if you’re talking about the course content with friends, you’ll hear their unique perspectives, which you can critically compare to your own, which augments, supports, positively alters, and strengthens your own perspectives.
Study habits act as the building blocks of your academic journey. Efficient study habits not only ensure better academic performance but also help in gaining lifelong skills like time management, goal-setting, and self-discipline. By adopting effective study habits, you modulate your academic journey to a more favorable and fruitful path.
If you want to dive deeper into getting good study habits, I’d recommend James Clear’s Atomic Habits book – it’s an amazing book for learning to get more productive and optimize your time as a student.
Issa, A.O., Aliyu, M.B., Akangbe, R.B., and Adedeji, A.F. (2012). Reading interest and habits of the federal polytechnic students.
International Journal of Learning & Development, 2(1): 470-486.
Nonis, S. A., & Hudson, G. I. (2010). Performance of college students: Impact of study time and study habits. Journal of education for Business, 85(4), 229-238.
Ogbodo, R. O. (2010). Effective Study Habits in Educational Sector: Counselling Implications. Edo Journal of Counselling, 3(2), 230-242.
Thalluri, J. (2016). Who benefits most from peer support group?–First year student success for Pathology students. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 228, 39-44.
Walck-Shannon, E. M., Rowell, S. F., & Frey, R. F. (2021). To what extent do study habits relate to performance?. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 20(1). doi: https://doi.org/10.1187/cbe.20-05-0091
Xu, S., Wang, Z., & Woods, K. (2019). Multitasking and dual motivational systems: A dynamic longitudinal study. Human Communication Research, 45(4), 371-394. doi: https://doi.org/10.1093/hcr/hqz009
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]