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Monday, February 2, 2015

Where You Study Matters

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Student after student has been told the same piece of bad advice time and time again. The empirical studies on this subject have shown how stupid this piece of advice is but teachers, parents, and everyone else with a complete lack of creativity seems to spout it out like gospel. If you're looking to improve your grades they tell you to “work harder.”

I know, you probably don't think that sounds stupid at first thought but there have been repeated studies on this. Working harder is absolutely awesome in some aspects of life.  If you're looking to dig a hole in the ground, it helps to work harder. If you're looking to bang your head against a wall until you can use that hole as your own final resting place, working harder helps again. That being said, if you're trying to do something that requires more than a handful of brain cells, working harder is probably just going to screw you over.

A conscience effort to work harder almost always leads to increased stress hormones. Increased stress hormones are useful when you're running from a bear but they're detrimental if you need to think creatively or are trying to remember something. There are much more important factors that need to be considered when looking to improve your grades that don't run that same risk of stalling your study progress completely.

It's much more effective to focus on the mechanics of your studying to improve your grades. After that, you can worry about optimizing your “effort.” One of the  most important of those mechanics you need to worry about is the environment that you're studying in. (If you want to learn more about those other mechanics then be sure to check out this blogs archives.)

Your Personal Study Bubble


The human brain isn't designed to plop itself into isolation from the rest of the world to study. You can't sit down in the middle of Times Square with your textbook and expect to be capable of learning the information you need to learn effectively. Your brain is designed to be easily “distractable.”

Just look at it from an evolutionary perspective. Which brain is more likely to survive and breed, the one that hears a branch break and looks in that direction, or the one that thinks it's studying is more important than a potential predator? Of course, studying means nothing when a tiger can eat you alive. You've, thankfully, inherited that easily distracted brain.

With that, you need to learn to work with it instead of constantly trying to fight it. To help you work around it, I recommend thinking about your need for “your personal study bubble.”

You should only be studying while in your personal study bubble (or possibly in a group personal study bubble, but I've never been able to appreciate the benefits myself. I always felt unnatural studying in groups but if it works for you...)

In the ideal world, your personal study bubble would be a completely safe and quiet room without any distractions from your studying. That means no phone, no people, and virtually no entertainment short of the textbook. If you can make that happen then I highly recommend it. That being said, I've virtually never been able to make it happen for more than a day or two myself. People generally need to work at it.

Working Out The Kinks


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If you're not privileged to complete silence, complete seclusion, or even a safe place, you need to find a way to make the bubble work.

For example, if you don't have a completely silent place to study. A library may be an acceptable alternative. While it's not completely silent, the quiet voices and environment will reduce distractions. Let's say you don't even have a semi-quiet place to study.  Perhaps you can only study in your frat house or something. What do you do then? While leaving would be ideal, you may be able to block out the background noises with music (or white noise on repeat in your headphones.)

Students regularly complain to me that they struggle to study because of interruptions from other people. People say that their friends or parents “won't leave them alone!” This brings two thoughts to my mind.

How could they possibly interrupt you? Seriously, turn off your phone, lock the door, or run away into the forest if you have to. When I'm setting up to study, there is virtually no way someone could possibly interrupt me. That is the ideal scenario. (No... do not play the “emergencies” card. Emergencies don't happen every 10 minutes you've turned off your phone.)

Even when people find a way to interrupt my studying, they don't do it more than once or twice. Why not? If I'm interrupted, I start by politely (but harshly) asking them to value my study time and leave me alone (perhaps with an expletive if we're close.) If I'm interrupted again, I respond coldly and accept that they're not going to help me study so I need to get away from them to study. They're no longer to be trusted. The evidence has officially shown that they disregard requests to be alone to study. Accept the evidence and find a way around it. (Maybe a new place to study will help.)

By consciously changing your environment to be your personal study bubble, you do more than just improve your immediate study environment. You also signal to yourself, and other people, that you're in your study bubble and your damn well taking it seriously. That improves studying in more ways than you can count.

Constant Improvement


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The most important point you can get from this article is not the specific study recommendations. It's realizing the necessity for improving your study environment. Most students give up almost immediately when their study environment gets compromised. Maybe the library they're studying in gets filled with loud people. Instead of getting up and leaving, the student will sit there and stew in their frustration for an hour praying that the loud people will get run over by a truck. That strategy isn't helpful (especially since trucks rarely drive through libraries.)

Students always need to be looking to improve their study environment because the world is constantly changing, and, of course, there is always room for improved study efficiency. While it can seem virtually impossible to change your ability to focus, everyone has some control over their physical environment. Use it.

Do you want to know how to study in less than fifteen minutes a night? Check out the archives of this blog for details. (Also, be sure to check out my ebooks on Amazon. Check them out in the sidebar.)


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