Studying alone can be really beneficial. After all, you can design your day around your study habits, you lifestyle, and which goals you need to complete. There’s no obligation to check in with a classmate, friend, or anyone else. It’s all about you and what you need.
Sounds like there’s plenty of time to get things going. What do you do with it?
Like everything important in life, you’ll need a strategy to map out what you need to do.
Here are 5 strategies that will help you study effectively.
Strategy #1. Make a commitment to reach one study goal a day.
The best way to get your mind on board to study effectively is to start the day with a question: “What is the one thing I am committed to completing today?”
Why is this important? It will encourage you to think strategically about the day, keep you focused on your top study goal, and force you to prioritize the one goal that you want to reach by the end of the day. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have many study goals, but it does means that you can finish one today (read a certain number of chapters or practice exam questions, for example), so that you can concentrate better on your other goals in the days that follow.
How can you practice it? Write the question in big bold letters on a sheet of paper and hang it on your bedroom or bathroom wall. Pick a location where you can easily see the question as soon as you wake up (next to your bed or the bathroom mirror, for example). Then, read it out loud as you start your day. Take a few moments to think what you want to prioritize, and then come up with an answer and say it out loud too. Later, as you go through the day, make sure you’re working on completing what you’ve identified as your study goal for that day.
Strategy #2. Study smarter, not longer.
How can you possibly focus if you believe it will take you hours to study all day? That certainly won’t give you motivation to study for longer periods of time or days at a stretch. Instead, try a different approach. When you’re ready to begin studying, use a timer to divide up your time so that you allow your brain to focus in a more targeted and effective way. These three techniques can help you concentrate better.
Reading or reviewing study material. Set the timer to 30 or 60 minute increments to maximize concentration; or, you can also try the Pomodoro technique which consists of 25 minute blocks of time, followed by 5 minute breaks.
Preparing for exams. Use your timer to simulate an exam. First, start with the review questions provided in your textbook or by your professor. If you have neither, create your own questions based on the most important concepts from each chapter. Then, write the questions down on a sheet of paper in a list format. Set your timer to the Pomodoro technique to give yourself only a short time to answer the questions, and go down the list until you’ve covered them all.
Bonus tip: Talk it through. As you’re going over new material and complex sections for the first time, write an outline of the basic points and then talk it through out loud. The benefit? You review, recall, and retain what you’ve learned in a much better way than just silently looking over the material and writing it out.
Strategy #3. Master your concentration using a mental model.
This is a technique we can use to tell ourselves a story of what we expect to happen in the near future. Specifically, we imagine in detail how we expect things will go in a specific, real-life situation. For studying, it’s mentally preparing ourselves for our studying day. Use these 5 steps to guide you through the process of building a mental model for studying.
Start your day by visualizing success. Do this before you begin your study session. Set aside about 510 minutes either before you get up in the morning, while you’re having breakfast, or right after breakfast as you’re sitting with your eyes closed.
Be detailed in thinking about all the steps you’ll take. This can include covering the chapters and exercises planned for that day, to taking the time to review the material, to writing out an outline of important concepts, to practicing exam questions and knowing the answers.
Anticipate what you’ll find challenging. This helps you prepare for problems so you don’t end up being surprised because you don’t understand a part of the lecture. Then, come up with ways to resolve the problem (for example, you will make a plan to ask a classmate, reach out to the professor, or set aside a little extra time for review).
Imagine a positive outcome. It’s not all about just what happens on the day of the exam that can contribute to your feeling of success. Celebrating small wins every day will boost your motivation and help you feel more positive about moving ahead.
Make plans to treat yourself for all your hard work. Maybe you’ll want to go for a long walk by yourself or with a friend, go on a long bike ride, run, prepare a nice dinner or eat out, watch a fun movie, or spend some quality time with a close friend.
Strategy #4. Tackle the hardest study material early.
To maximize your concentration, you should understand how your circadian rhythm works. For most people, mornings are optimal for doing deep work, i. e. work that requires a lot of your concentration and analytical thinking. In the case of studying, this work might include reading, writing, doing exercises, analyzing, critical thinking, or problem solving. Here are 2 tips to make the most of your circadian rhythm.
Plan to study the hardest material 2-4 hours after you wake up. For example, if you wake up at 7, your peak times are between 9 and 11 a. m. You can extend this time until lunch in order to maximize your peak performing hours.
Leave afternoons for collaborating and socializing. This covers the 12-4 p. m. time range, after you eat lunch and several hours after. It’s a good time of day to schedule group meetings, brainstorm ideas with classmates, and work together on group projects where you can provide feedback and get recommendations on your work.
Strategy #5. Eliminate distractions like a pro.
There are infinite sources of distractions that can slow you down and make you postpone your studies on any given day, from checking your Twitter or Instagram to browsing through emails. There are a few things that can help to reduce the noise around you:
Set the phone to Airplane mode. Do this when you need to focus without a single interruption. If it’s not possible for you to do that, then turn off the volume in your phone settings and put your phone away so that you can’t see it in front of you.
Set expectations with others. Tell people you won’t be available in the next few hours. It sounds obvious but it isn’t; nobody will know you need to have your quiet time so you do need to tell them. Then, let them know when you’ll reach out (for example, at lunchtime) to catch up on whatever is going on.
Check emails and social media apps 23 times a day. If you spend your early morning hours reading through emails, you aren’t using your best hours to your advantage. Leave checking emails for after you’ve finished your first block of deep work. For social media apps, use your short breaks between work sessions to catch up on what is interesting to you, so you can get the best of both worlds. Remember: the whole point is to enjoy the small moments in your day, not just work non-stop for hours!
This answer originally appeared on this Quora question on Studying.