4 Study Tips When You’re Completely Stuck in a Rut


Feeling burned out? Reset your brain with these helpful study tips from Chicago, IL tutor Hilary B...


Do you ever feel like your brain is in a rut? It’s happened to all of us — maybe there are a set of vocabulary words you just can’t seem to memorize, or a new concept you understand in theory but can’t seem to put into practice. Maybe you just don’t feel quite as sharp as you usually do. But one thing is certain — feeling frustrated and angry isn’t going to help you learn anything. In fact, it’s probably hindering you.

Here are four study tips to help boost your learning and get your brain out of its rut:

1. Pay attention to your state

The first thing I always ask my students when they tell me they are having difficulty with focus, memorization, or comprehension is whether they drink caffeine. I ask this question because state-dependent learning is a real thing, and every student should be using it to their advantage.

The principal behind state-dependent learning is simple: our brain absorbs and processes information differently depending on its state. There are a myriad of factors that can go into your brain’s state. Of course, there are the obvious factors like caffeine and alcohol, but there are also other factors like the music you are listening to or how recently you’ve had a meal. The point is to identify the state factors that help you learn, and to recreate them. So if you learn best when you are listening to the Spice Girls and drinking a cup of Earl Grey, then go for it!

2. Eat a good meal

We’ve all grown up hearing it: “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” And as much as we hate to admit it, our mothers were right on this one. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but the other meals are important too. If you find you’re stuck on something, go make yourself a well-rounded meal (leafy greens included). Just the act of getting up from your desk to do something healthy will reset your brain, and a hearty, healthy meal will keep your brain going a lot longer than sheer willpower.

3. Put away the flashcards

Sometimes the oldies are not always the goodies, and in the case of memorization this is definitely the case. There are many different methods for memorizing bits of information like dates, places, and vocabulary that don’t involve hunkering down with a stack of index cards. Try creating a mental map of the information you need to remember — visualize each bit of information as corresponding to a detail about a place you know well, like your bedroom. If that doesn’t work, try processing the information differently by drawing it into a picture or incorporating it into a song.

4. Give up — but make a plan for tomorrow

Sometimes your brain just isn’t going to do what you want it to do, no matter how many study tips and tricks you try. Maybe you didn’t get quite enough sleep last night or the neighbor’s dog won’t stop barking. Maybe you just aren’t feeling sharp or motivated. If you feel like you’ve tried everything and it still isn’t clicking for you, then get up from your desk and go do something else. I guarantee using your time productively will ultimately feel better than tearing your hair out over difficulty focusing.

If you need to give up for the night, then give up for the night. But always make a plan to start fresh in the morning. Decide on a time and a place you are going to pick things back up and stick to it — that way you can really relax during the time between deciding to do something else and picking up where you left off. After all, sometimes you just need to let your brain do its thing.


Hilary B. teaches study skills, college admissions, and essay writing in Chicago, IL. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Arts from Sarah Lawrence College and her Master of Arts in Religion and Literature from the University of Chicago. Hilary specializes in tutoring those who struggle with mild to severe ADD, ADHD, and similar academic and intellectual challenges. Learn more about Hilary here!


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