One of the most important factors for your academic success is how you’re able to study on a regular basis. Studying is how you’ll reinforce what you learn in class, how you’ll learn new materials not discussed in class, how you’ll prepare for exams, and how you’ll research your essays and assignments. “Studying” itself comes in a variety of forms, and there are dozens of variables that can influence how effective your studying is—not just the number of hours you spend staring at a textbook.
So which factors are most important in determining how effective your studying is, and what can you do to control them?
Factors to Improve Your Studying Efficiency
Rather than the sheer number of hours you invest in studying, these are the factors most likely to affect your comprehension, retention, and overall efficiency:
- Distractions. Getting a good internet plan when you finally live on your own (or with roommates) can be liberating, but it can also serve as a powerful distraction. If you study in the same room as three other people who are watching TV, playing video games, and listening to music, it won’t matter how much time you spend reading or how good you think you are at multitasking; it’s going to distract you. Finding an environment with minimal distractions, and learning how to resist distractions like smartphone notifications is a must if you want to succeed.
- Consistency. Studying is less about how much time you spend in a single session and more about how consistent you are in your studying habits. For example, it’s typically better for your retention if you study in one-hour sessions, once a day every day for a few weeks than if you stay up for 24 hours cramming everything at once. This may be difficult to pull off if you struggle with self-discipline or if your schedule makes it difficult to create new routines.
- Proactiveness. It also helps if you study proactively. Most college courses provide you with a syllabus that outlines the curriculum for the entire semester, detailing which assignments are coming up, when your test is, and what information you’ll need to learn. This allows you to start studying and working on assignments very early in the course, which is ideal. This will allow you to study under less stressful conditions, manage your time more easily, and possibly have access to more university resources.
- Medium diversity. Most people lean toward one preferred learning style, but that doesn’t mean the other styles of learning should go neglected. If you spend the entire course reading out of a textbook, without studying in any other formats, you may not learn as quickly or retain as much as someone who reads, studies visuals, re-listens to lectures, watches videos on the subject, and talks to others at the same time. Shake things up, and try to learn in multiple formats.
- Social support. Social support can help you tremendously in achieving your studying goals. Studying together as part of a group can help everyone involved learn more efficiently, but more importantly, talking to other people about your goals and intentions can help you stay accountable to those goals. Try to build a network of other students who share your academic aspirations, and work to keep each other accountable to those goals.
- Environmental factors. The nature of your environment also plays a role in your ability to study and retain information. We already covered the importance of avoiding distractions, but there are other factors to consider as well. For example, it pays to be comfortable, but not so comfortable that you aren’t paying attention to the material. You’ll need sufficient (but not blinding) lighting, and low-volume background noise is ideal.
- Health. You also need to consider your physical and mental wellbeing. If you don’t take proper care of yourself, you might be more susceptible to catching a cold, which can interfere with your ability to concentrate on your studying materials. If you’re overly stressed and aren’t managing that stress, you could become depressed, which in turn can interfere with your ability to retain information and concentrate. Be proactive when you notice something “off” with your physical or mental health.
Improving Your Studying Efficiency
It’s entirely within your power to improve your studying efficiency, though it may take time to polish your habits to perfection. Once you do, you’ll find that every hour of time you spend on studying will yield more value to you, and you’ll be less stressed as well. Don’t panic or become distressed if you aren’t a master studier your first year on campus; it may take a few semesters to find the approach that works best for you.