Good study habits are the result of good organisation on many levels. One’s daily access to physical resources (of time, energy, focus, attention, et cetera) is finite and must therefore be managed thoughtfully. This relates to lifestyle issues, such as diet and sleeping patterns, as well as to specific study techniques. The key is to attain a smooth rhythm in one’s daily routine, so as to anticipate and exploit periods of peak mental activity. For example, one is more likely to absorb information in the morning, after a good night’s sleep, when the mind and body are fresh than, say, late at night, when energy reserves are low. Hence it is better to do one hour of focused reading after breakfast than two hours of foggy reading before bed. For similar reasons, a healthy and balanced diet is imperative. Good nutrition allows one to maintain energy levels, which provide the essential spark to fuel one’s mental faculties. Of course, each person is unique and will need to work to their specific personal parameters. One needs to find the right rhythm for one’s own body and this will take some tuning and adjustment.
The bedrock of good organisation, and thus good study habits, is time management. One needs to be able to apportion one’s week to provide for adequate blocks of study, rest, and recreation. Remember, a balanced lifestyle is essential. Likewise, study time needs to be balanced and ordered logically, where the amount of time spent on a given topic is proportionate to its importance. There is no better way to ensure a well-structured term than to use a diary or personal planner. Plan your week in advance, setting clear goals. This need not be an inviolable regimen of activities but, rather, provide a broad roadmap to follow. If you know where you are going, you will have a better idea of where you are. This will enable you to monitor your progress, gauging relative strengths and weaknesses, adjusting your study focus accordingly.
In academic study it can often be difficult to filter through the vast quantities of available information and pinpoint just what is needed. However, this is an important skill: you do not want to waste any time lingering on unessential material. Always note down key terms and phrases in lectures and tutorials. Textbooks tend to highlight keywords, offering further indication of importance. It is useful to cross-reference two or more critical texts on the same topic. The most important information will likely be repeated across the board, indicating overall significance. Familiarise yourself with these keywords. Pin them to the wall of your study area. Try to explain them to others. The best way to comprehend a subject is to teach it to someone else. These keywords will come to act as mental scaffolding, providing an overall framework for the topic at hand.
While memorising important information is necessary, it should be complemented with more dynamic study approaches. A great way to improve one’s critical knowledge is to discuss and debate relevant topics with peers. Interaction encourages different perspectives on an issue. Moreover, it provides an opportunity to react spontaneously to critical problems (as one will have to do in an exam). Studying with friends is a great way to improve knowledge. Group study is engaging and diverse; it can provide a welcome break from the solitude of individual study, affording a social outlet for academic pursuits. Making study fun also makes it more appealing. This makes it more likely that you will repeat the process. In addition, working in a group offers a support network, which can help you stay motivated.
If there is ever anything you do not understand, ask your teacher. You are not alone in your research efforts. Do not hesitate to speak up in lectures or seminars (where appropriate). Good study technique involves acknowledging that there are certain concepts that you will not immediately grasp; and this is nothing to be ashamed of. Make sure you identify tricky issues early on, so that you have adequate time to address them. Even the most complex concepts will become clear with time and careful consideration. This is why effective time management is crucial.
Try not to worry too much. If you are overly anxious you will find it difficult to retain information. For this reason, it is important to balance your academic practice with rest and recreation. Sometimes taking a break from study can cleanse the mental palette and reinvigorate you.
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