Student Hacks: Study Techniques

By Ester Latifi


As students, we all face a few common struggles that affect us, regardless of whether we’re graduating in a few months or still in the first month of first year. Study techniques, exam stress, and staying motivated are issues that plague us all with each passing semester. I’ve been at Concordia for four years now and, while I won’t claim to have it all together, I’ve made a few mistakes along the road that have left me with some valuable lessons and techniques that help me deal with the many stress factors that are accompanied with school.

In this article, I will be focusing on study habits and staying motivated. This is, by far, the most important part of our educational careers. The problem is that, for many of us, the motivation to actually study is often nonexistent, or your study sessions just don’t feel productive. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably spent a lot of time staring at your notes, books, or computer screen before opting to just cram everything in at the last minute. While I have done this on more occasions than I can count, it’s not something I recommend. In the last year especially, I’ve adopted a few techniques that have helped me increase my productivity and not hate myself when exam time rolls around. I do want to make a disclaimer that everyone is different, so you might have to tweak a few of these to fit your own lifestyle.

  1. Plan ahead. Most of us are juggling a few commitments outside of our academic lives, so this is important. Before the semester started, I bought a physical calendar to hang on my wall, a to-do list, and an agenda. By mapping out when your assignments are due (every syllabus is there to make your life easier!), you won’t be blindsided by deadlines and can plan your other commitments accordingly. I know we have calendars on our phones, but for me, seeing everything physically written down makes it harder to forget.
  1. Set specific goals. This is so important! If you have a novel to read, dedicate time to finishing x amount of chapters per day. I can’t even count the times I’ve spent what felt like forever reading and rereading the same few paragraphs and feeling like I wasn’t absorbing any of the content. Conversely, I’ve also had study sessions where I highlight what seems like every single line of a text, and at the end, I have so many notes and points I have no way of memorizing in one sitting (this is worse when you’re prepping for an exam). Lately, I’ve been physically writing down the things I want to accomplish in my study time, and that means being hyper-specific about how many pages of what book you’re going to read and stopping, at least for a break, once you’ve reached that goal. This leads me to my next point…
  1. Take breaks! In my first two years, I would study for hours and hours on end. By the end of each session, it really didn’t feel like I’d learned much. If anything, I would end up extremely frustrated with a headache on top, feeling more de-motivated than ever. I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to do that! As cliche as this is, quantity does not equal quality. Your brain physically cannot maintain a productive attention span for that long. I like to compare it to going for a run: no one can run full speed for a full hour–you’re going to have to slow down to a jog or fast-walk so you don’t over-exhaust yourself. I find that, for myself, breaks go hand-in-hand with the process of setting goals. I personally like to schedule my break times in with every study session; this gives me incentive to keep trucking through whatever it is I’m studying. Pro tip: breaks are more effective when you get up and walk around and even taking a quick walk outside if the weather permits. A change of scenery is good!
  1. If you don’t understand something, leave it and come back to it later. There’s no reason to sit and get more and more frustrated. If you’ve gone over something a few times and are still having trouble, just move on and give your brain a break.
  1. Talk to your professors. I know a lot of people find this intimidating, but I’ve definitely taken classes where I’ve felt completely lost at times (German, anyone?). I would not have gotten through these courses without going to my professor’s office hours and asking them for specific recommendations on how to understand the homework. They’re the ones teaching the material, and they’re more than able and willing to help you study! Take advantage of the fact that we go to a small school–you probably wouldn’t be able to access your professors as easily at a huge university like the U of A.
  1. Reward yourself. Positive reinforcement works! A friend of mine puts M&Ms in her textbooks and eats them as she reaches the pages she’s marked them with. You don’t have to do exactly the same thing; if you like gaming, for example, you can reward a productive study session with one hour of Red Dead Redemption (or whatever the cool kids play these days). Don’t take advantage of this, though; it can be easy to reward yourself with three hours of something after only half an hour of studying. Make sure you are accomplishing your set goals before you indulge in a leisurely activity.
  1. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get the grades you want. We’ve all had that one class where it feels like no matter how hard you study, you can’t get an A. It happens! If you know you’ve done your best, you can rest easy knowing that you put in your maximum effort and gotten the best possible grade you could have, whether that’s a 70% or a 100%. However, if you know you can do better, it means that your study method isn’t working for you 100%, so if that’s the case, take the opportunity to make adjustments. You can only get better if you set your mind to it! It can be pretty discouraging and it’s all too easy to just give up when you get a bad grade, but it’s important to keep going.

I know that schoolwork can be daunting–I’m still figuring things out myself. While there’s no method that will magically make you glide through and get your degree handed to you on a silver platter (as nice as that would be), there are definitely things you can do to make the process a bit more bearable. I hope you find these tips helpful!

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