Written by: Blythe Freshwater/Photography by: Chance Orendac
We all know the struggle of trying to keep our heads afloat in the busy day-to-day hustle and bustle of college. Between going to class, working, and hanging out with friends, we often find ourselves hard-pressed to find solid studying time. We become overwhelmed, so we end up procrastinating, watching Netflix, and staying up until 3am (Yes, I‘m talking to you!). We leave long projects for the last minute and frantically try to finish them in a coffee-infused cloud of stress. Then we get to the big exam and can barely remember what we just studied.
So, how can we make sure that we’re getting enough sleep, but still studying well enough to remember what we need to learn? It seems like an impossible balance, but there are several practical (and simple) steps you can take to maximize your studying time and minimize your stress.
1. Figure out what study environments work best for you.
This one will take some thought and some honesty as you reflect on your personality. Do you focus better with soft music? In silence? With others? By yourself? In an energetic setting? In a duller setting? Outside? Inside? In the morning? In the afternoon? In the evening? Late at night? If you aren’t quite sure how you study best, find someone close to you (a parent, a close friend) and ask their opinion.
Freshman Brianna Hudson says, “I like to study around people, but not necessarily with a group. The sound of talking and activity around me helps me focus.” Justin Huffman, sophomore ministry major, on the other hand, “Can’t study around other people. I get way too distracted.”
Kat Walls, junior psychology major says, “The way I study best is by listening to music scores of movies. It makes homework feel a little more epic and a little less boring. Depending on the homework, I’d recommend the soundtracks from How to Train Your Dragon, National Treasure, Sherlock Holmes, the live action Alice in Wonderland, or The Lord of the Rings.” Other people recommend Pride and Prejudice, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Man from Snowy River, or Pirates of the Caribbean. It helps if the music doesn’t have words, but even instrumental worship music can be beneficial for good studying.
Sometimes, we study in situations or places that aren’t especially helpful. If you need silence but find yourself in Doc Lacy’s (or in the library late at night), you aren’t doing yourself a favor. If you need to be alone but find yourself surrounded by your closest pals, you might have to take steps to find a place where you can study alone. It might not be the most fun, but you need to be honest with yourself: How do you study best? Once you’ve come up with an answer, have the guts to stick to what works for you. Your studies and your grades are important, and finding your “study niche” will ensure that you are getting the most out of your limited window of study time.
I can’t give enough emphasis to this step. It’s easy to get completely overwhelmed with the sheer amount of homework you must do, so you either try to do it all at once, or you go into vapor-lock and then none of it gets done. I’m as guilty of this as anyone else.
One way to reduce stress is to get a planner and prioritize assignments. What’s due for the next day? Get that done first. What big projects do you have coming up? Work on them little by little. Do you have
to have something done for the first class of the morning? Finish it the night before, so you’re not panicking when there’s a line for the printers at the library and you’re going to be late for class.
As my mom always used to say, “Put the first things first, and the second things second.” It sounds like common sense, but if something is less important or less urgent than another assignment, prioritizing can help you get all of it done on time.
3. Break assignments into chunks.
This goes along with prioritizing. Everything looks more overwhelming when you look at the big picture of all your assignments and deadlines. After you’re done prioritizing your work, focus on one subject at a time. Josiah Walker, junior business major, says that his study habits throughout the week look like this: “I have to set aside specific blocks of time for each class. For example, I do my Romans homework on Saturdays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays at the same time each day. I don’t move onto another class’s homework until Romans is done.”
This method helps you maintain a solid train of thought, and you will be more effective than just scattering your mental resources across multiple subjects.
Another aspect of this step is to break assignments themselves into chunks. If you get tired reading 30 pages in one sitting, split it up into three 10-page sections. If you are experiencing writer’s block on your 5-page paper, only focus on one paragraph at a time.
Then, after each milestone, take a quick break (emphasis on quick!). Maybe run around the pond once, grab a drink of water, or use the restroom. Try to avoid using your phone or getting into a conversation that can distract you for a long period of time. Maintaining your train of thought is important, but you also need to allow your brain processing time. You’ll find that you often will remember the entirety of the assignment better if you break it up into manageable chunks. And then you’ll find that the assignment wasn’t so overwhelming after all. It’s very time effective and efficient for your brain to separate assignments into chunks.
4. Teach yourself.
I know at first glance, this doesn’t make much sense. “I’m in college so other people can teach me! If I were just going to teach myself, I wouldn’t pay this much money!” You might yell at me.
I know. I know. Hold your horses.
What I mean by “teach yourself” is that you need to work through your assignments, explaining it to yourself in your own words. After all, if you can teach a subject to someone, you must really understand it. So, teach it to yourself!
If it’s definitions, you need to memorize them in a way that makes sense to you. Is it flashcards? Is it writing a concept over and over again? Is it finding the study guide answers in the textbook? Is it highlighting key terms and writing them down in a notebook later? Is it having someone else quiz you? Is it finding real-life applications of a scenario? Is it reviewing your prof’s PowerPoint slides on Brightspace? Is it calling up Grandma and teaching her everything you’re learning in your music theory or accounting class? I’m actually not kidding about that one; your Grandma would probably love to hear
what you’re learning… and it’d give you a good excuse to call her. Seriously, though: Reword it. Repeat it. Reiterate it. Regurgitate it.
McKenna Deck, junior digital cinema major, says she learns and remembers best by using flashcards or writing important information in her own words on a whiteboard. Anthony Hale says something similar: “I learn best by highlighting key information and watching a realistic video of the subject. I have to go over it several times to finally comprehend and remember it.” Alumna Ruthie Anderson (‘18) says, “I am an auditory learner, so I read and record my notes on my phone and then listen to them all the time so it solidifies in my brain.”
5. Good studying starts with God. This is the most essential step. Josiah Walker suggests a fantastic tip: “First and foremost, you have to get into the Word before you start your studies. I start my day off like that, but I also start each study session communicating with my Father. He is the inventor of words and rational thought, and I know no matter what I am studying, be it religion or business ethics or science, I know He can use it to teach me what He wants me to know.”
There you have it. Start with God, and everything else will fall in place. He will give you the power to do the hard things, like saying goodnight to your friends early so you can study, plowing through a 10-page paper, or balancing two jobs, sports, and 18 credit hours. He will give you comfort when you are depressed, stressed, and frustrated. He will give you hope in the deep dark pit of studying for midterms. But you must start with Him! And He will help you with the other 4 steps to good studying: He’ll help you prioritize, break things down into a manageable action plan, find your study niche, and teach yourself so you remember. Like Josiah says, “Starting your studies with God is vital to your success, because if you set school before God, that’s idolatry, and you’re sure to fail.”