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How to Study Effectively

Studying effectively takes motivation, organization, time, and practice.

This is true whether you’re a full- or part-time student, and whether you’re focusing only on school or needing to juggle school, work and family responsibilities.

Finding enough time to study, and using that time effectively, can be a challenge for many students. The good news is that good study habits can be learned. Follow these tips to improve your study habits.

Set your goals

Although graduation is your ultimate goal, setting more immediate goals will help you stay focused and motivated. Realistic long-term goals, such as being prepared for midterms or reaching a specific grade point average, will help you organize your efforts for each semester. Short-term goals, such as completing research on an assignment or reading 2 chapters by the weekend, will help you stay on track on a day-to-day basis.

Make sure your goals are realistic

Adjusting to school takes time, so try to make your first term your easiest. If you can, mix challenging courses with less stressful ones each term. Avoid taking the most difficult courses first or all in one term “just to get them over with.” Aim for steady improvement in your marks—you’ll achieve your goals and be motivated to keep trying.

Set up a schedule

A schedule helps you get organized and make decisions about how much time to spend on what, so you can manage the demands on your time, meet your deadlines and still maintain some balance in your life. Although your schedule needs to be flexible, it’s a good idea to record it on a calendar or an agenda book or using software or a smart phone application. Start by writing down exam and assignment due dates for the whole term, and then work backwards from there. Make monthly and weekly plans and daily to-do lists. Don’t forget to schedule time for recreation activities, socializing and family responsibilities.

Keep your schedule flexible

Review your schedule regularly—unexpected events and assignments that take longer than expected will require you to make changes. Borrow or trade but never steal from study time. If you need more study time, try using “found” time, e.g. between classes, while waiting in line and on the bus. Create more time by changing some habits, e.g. chat or text less, ease up on household chores or watch less TV.

Study every day

Shorter, regular study periods are more effective than marathon sessions. Frequent breaks will help you study more effectively. Plan to take a short break every 50 minutes or so. If you’re studying for longer than 2 hours at a time, try switching to a different subject every hour. Whenever possible, study during the time of day when you’re most alert. Forcing yourself to study when you’re exhausted or distracted makes it much harder.

Avoid procrastinating

Identify the ways you typically waste time or put off until later the things you should be doing now—both examples of procrastination. You’ll know you’re procrastinating when you make excuses for putting things off, such as “it can wait until later” or “I’ll just finish this TV program/video game/laundry first.” Sometimes breaking large tasks like assignments into smaller, more manageable tasks makes them seem less challenging. When you know you can finish a task in a short time, you’re less likely to waste time getting started.

Make it easy to start studying and stay focused

Study in a quiet place with a desk or table, a comfortable chair and good lighting and ventilation. Organize any tools you need and keep them handy. If there are too many distractions at home, study at school. If you find it hard to focus on your studies at first, start with short but more frequent sessions. With practice, you’ll improve your ability to concentrate.

Compete with yourself

Challenge yourself to increase the length of time you can concentrate, improve your mark on the next exam or accomplish more in a set amount of time.

Cory failed a test at the beginning of his pre-trades program. Although he was upset that he got such a low mark, he realized that it was his own fault. He knew that he hadn’t really studied that hard, so there was no point blaming the instructor. 
Cory decided to work hard to improve his marks and set a goal for the next exam. Whenever he had self-defeating thoughts, and felt distracted from his studies or wanted to join his friends partying, he reminded himself of his goal, and the successes he's already had. He set aside regular study time and asked the instructor for help in the areas where he had previously done poorly. In fact, the positive changes in Cory’s attitude not only helped him successfully graduate from the program but also receive a good recommendation for an apprenticeship position.


Think and say positive things about studying

Approach studying in the same way you would approach any other type of work—take a positive attitude and tackle it head on. If your self-talk is positive—“I can do it,” “It’s going to help me reach my goal,” “I’m interested in this”—you’ll make the job seem easier and more enjoyable.

Get help with study skills

For more information and help with study skills, such as how to take notes or retain what you read, check out the study skills resources at the school you plan to attend or ask a librarian for self-help materials.

Look after yourself

Maintain your energy and boost your brainpower—get enough sleep, eat nutritious foods and exercise regularly.

Reward yourself

Recognizing your success is an important way to maintain your motivation. When you achieve a goal, large or small, celebrate. For example, give yourself a couple of guilt-free hours at your favourite pastime.

Practise effective study habits for school success

As a student, the sheer amount of time involved in going to class, completing homework and studying can seem overwhelming, especially at first. Learning to be an effective student takes organization, hard work, focus and practice. When you commit to reaching your daily study goals and priorities, then every day, you move closer to success.

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