When I was in high school I once spent a whole evening playing a game where the entire premise was to keep clicking on a giant, stationary button to win points. Nothing else. For one assignment all I had to do was watch a really entertaining movie and we would analyse it the next day in class. I watched a different movie that night. I sucked at studying back then, and I’m not entirely sure I’ve become what you would call a ‘good’ studier now.
But I did get through Year 12 and ended up with marginally better habits and into the degree I wanted. It was a complete shit show at some points, and many lessons and epiphanies were had dead in the middle of the night at 4am (mainly, don’t leave homework until 4am again). But what matters is I got through it and I learnt something about what works best for people like me. So, without further ado, here are some lessons on studying from somebody who sucks at it.
1. Organised study dates
Sometimes you just have to trick your brain into letting you study, and this is one of those ways. This is great for a social person because it lets you fulfil your need to spend time with people, but the pressure from other people studying means you’ll actually get some work done. Creating a commitment with people and holding each other accountable also makes it harder to blow off study for the day and go back to the Giant Button Clicking Game.
2. Hang out with better organised people
In Year 11 biology I learnt about the concept of osmosis, where water molecules will move from an area of higher concentration to an area of lower concentration. I thought I could rack up study skills this way and tried to hang out more with my friends that had their shit together. While it didn’t work out the way it did in the diagrams, I did pick up on some of their study habits and general attitude. For example, when all they would talk about was studying, I was convinced that this was normal and they weren’t nerds, so I studied more too.
3. Dedicated a space for studying
If I try to study in my room, I end up falling asleep instead. You can’t blame me though, that place was perfect for sleeping – it had a bed in it and everything! In all seriousness, we build mood associations with different rooms and spaces and it’s important to keep your room as a space of relaxation. It just meant I had make a little nook in my house my study space or keep going back to the same spot in the same library whenever I wanted to study.
4. Multi-sensory learning
Going over the same information through different senses means you’re creating stronger brain connections for that fact or topic, making it easier to recall information for tests. It’s easier to do than hammering in conventional study too, and something as simple as colour coding notes counts. My favourite technique was to record myself reading my notes or essays and listening back.
5. Make time to have fun
A common piece of advice for students is to reward yourself for your hard work after it’s done, whether it be through ice cream or going to a party. However, as any serial procrastinator will tell you, this simply doesn’t work for us because we put it off until it eats up both our work and leisure time. Then we’re tired and grumpy because we didn’t get to hang out with friends, making it harder to focus on work.
Instead, I just gave myself that time to have fun unconditionally – because I bloody deserve it, but also because it helped my overall mental wellbeing. I went out, hung out with people, relaxed and I ate that ice cream; next day I got my study done because nobody was doing anything fun by then anyway. This perfect balance of work and leisure – unconventional as it was – was so crucial to my getting through Year 12.