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 can’t 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 10 best 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 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 principle 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. This is one easy study habit we should all get behind!
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.
5. Schedule Your Studying
We’re pretty sure we don’t have to tell you that cramming doesn’t do you any favors. Not only will you find yourself stressing and losing valuable sleep, but not much will stick if you’re trying to learn it all within a day before your test.
One of our favorite study tips involves spacing out your studying. Look at the calendar to see how long you have until your exam, review the extent of material you need to know, and then create a game plan for how you’ll tackle it. For instance, if you have four weeks until your exam and three chapters to learn, consider dedicating one chapter to each week and reserve the final week for piecing it all together.
6. Join a Group Study Group
If you’re wondering how to prevent burnout from studying, round up a study group! Working with others is one of the best ways to study and talk through tricky concepts, debate sides, and quiz each other. You can also create study guides and explain complex topics to one another. Group activities like these can help you make more sense of material and retain that information for your upcoming test.
7. Change Up Your Environment
So how else do you deal with study burnout? Sometimes it’s just a matter of shaking up your scenery. It’s easy to get in a rut when you’re staring at the same four walls while trying to absorb difficult concepts. Not to mention, you probably dread going to that spot every time you have to study.
Instead, hit the books at the park, bring your textbooks to your favorite coffee shop, or head to a place with a pretty view. You might be surprised at what a change in scenery can do for you!
8. Discover Your Learning Style
One of the best study tips involves determining your learning style. Some people are auditory learners, which means they learn best by listening, while others are visual or spatial learners, meaning they retain information better by reading words or viewing pictures.
Maybe you are a kinesthetic learner, or perhaps you lean more toward the linguistic or verbal side. Once you determine how you like to consume information, you can study accordingly. For example, if you are an auditory learner, you might want to listen to lectures. Whereas if you are a linguistic learner, you may do better in group study sessions where you can talk things out.
9. Don’t Just Reread Your Textbooks
You’re not going to make any progress if you’re simply rereading your textbooks over and over again. One of the most effective study tips is to read a few paragraphs and then regurgitate what you just read.
Paraphrase it out loud or jot down a few sentences about it in your notebook. What did you just read? Can you explain it? What did you not understand? Quizzing yourself and interacting with the text in this way will help you better understand and absorb the material versus simply glossing over all of the words.
10. Work With a Private Tutor
If our list of the best study methods still isn’t doing the trick for you, it may be time to turn to a professional. A certified tutor can do wonders when it comes to helping you prep and study for upcoming tests.
At TakeLessons, you’ll find all kinds of private tutors who can help you avoid burnout and reach your study goals. Whether you are studying for a college exam or looking for some extra help in physics, you’ll find all the help you need. Knowing how to prevent burnout from studying can give you a leg up when it comes to preparing for quizzes and exams. Follow our tips to help you study, and you’ll be one step closer to acing your next big text.
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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