on June 22nd, 2021

We get it, deadlines are tough. However, it’s never too late to develop and implement productive habits to help you study more effectively.

There are many ways you can improve your overall approach to studying that can help to raise your marks and lead to an even better understanding of coursework.

Here are our picks of five beneficial things you could be doing to improve your study routine.

Bowl of healthy food that can help you study more effectively
Photo by Anh Nguyen on Unsplash
1. What You Eat Matters

You are what you eat is a common phrase you might have heard before and it is good advice for students.

A common mistake many make during times of stress is to eat unhealthily. Junk food is often eaten in place of normal meals to “keep energy levels up”. However, this is not only harmful to your long-term health but can also negatively affect your studying performance.

Not only does healthy food make you feel better, and help your body function optimally -but there are some interesting things you have to consider when planning a meal.

In the paper, Assessment of dietary factors, dietary practices, and exercise on mental distress in young adults versus matured adults: A cross-sectional study compared the best diet for young adults and mature adults, it is discussed how specific food influences the build-up of positive and negative brain chemicals.

For instance, regular consumption of meat leads to the build-up of brain chemicals that moderate your mood. Young adults are more likely to experience this build-up, and as a result, young adults who consumed meat more than three times a week, and exercised at least three times a week, showed less mental distress than those not eating meat.

The mood in mature adults on the other hand was found to be sensitive consuming food rich in anti-oxidants. The more berries and fish they consumed elevated their mood. Mature adults were more prone to stress when drinking lots of coffee and eating too many carbohydrates, which can, in turn, lead to an unproductive environment.

No matter what your diet, vegan, dairy-free, vegetarian, or carnivore, good nutrition will always keep you at your optimum. Eating well-rounded meals will help you study effectively, and lead to better results, both in the short-term and the long-term.

Man listening to music to help him study more effectively
Photo by Dollar Gill on Unsplash
2. Make Buddies With Beethoven

Classical music is proven to help STEM students perform better during exams. As a result, engineering students have a lot to gain from switching their playlists up.

In the 2019 study, Classical Music During Slow Wave Sleep Facilitates Educational Learning: A Targeted Memory Reactivation Experiment with Immediate and 9-Month Follow-Up Testing, research showed that during slow-wave sleep, certain memories get reactivated and consolidated in the brain.

Researchers used the targeted memory reactivation (TMR) technique, where they can facilitate how memories are consolidated with sensory stimuli that are paired with slow-wave sleep.

For the study, 50 university-aged students completed a lecture in microeconomics while listening to classical music. After the lecture when each of the students entered slow-wave sleep some listened to the same classical music or white noise.

The next day all the participants had to take a microeconomics test with questions they were trained to solve during the previous lecture. Nine months later the students were assigned a similar test.

Students that had exposure to classical music outperformed those who didn’t during the first test, and still showed moderate retention of studied material 9 months later.

So, during your next study session, why not try putting on some Mozart before hitting the books.

3. Manage Your Time Effectively

Time management can be extremely challenging when you are trying to balance other priorities in life such as work, travel, family, friends, and hobbies. The ability to prioritize is the key to achieving a balanced and productive lifestyle.

At the start of each term or semester, it is useful to prepare a calendar with all your important dates. This can include;

  1. Assignment due dates
  2. Test/quiz dates
  3. Webinar or lecture dates

From there you can create a weekly schedule that can help you determine how much time you spend on academic activities and determine the best time for you to study efficiently. It’s important to be realistic about the time you have and how to use it.

To-do lists are a highly effective way of keeping on top of your tasks and helping to prioritize your commitments. These can be a short dot-point list of things you need to do on any given day.

One of the most effective ways to improve your study is to study less! The Pomodoro Technique encourages you to study in short bursts and is an effective way of keeping you on track. Every 25 minutes you take a five-minute break, which helps you to complete projects quickly without overthinking them. If 25 minutes seems too short, you might like to try starting with 45 minutes and then a 15-minute break – make the technique work for you.

Man sleeping in bed to help him study more effectively
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels
4. Sleep Yourself Smart

Rest is a cornerstone to a healthy study environment, and getting enough sleep has been proven to improve marks and be effective in stress management during exams.

Research suggests that sleep helps learning and memory in two distinct ways. First, a sleep-deprived person cannot focus attention optimally and therefore cannot learn efficiently. Second, sleep itself has a role in the consolidation of memory, which is essential for learning new information.

The paper, Sleep in College Students during Final Exams: The Eight Hour Challenge, found that during stressful times, like exams, fewer than 20% of students meet at least 7 hours of continuous sleep. Less than 10% of students sleep 8 to 9 hours, the vital amount that is believed to be optimal for students.

Research shows that students require the most sleep during exams because sleep deprivation impairs attention, memory consolidation and leads to less emotional control. It is believed that sleep deprivation harms prefrontal executive control and that sleep is a therapeutic intervention for mental illness in students.

Given what we now know about sleep, there are several things you can do to improve your sleep cycle and help you study effectively. This list is not exhaustive, but it includes many suggestions that help in falling and staying asleep so you can get the 7-9 hours your body and mind need.

  1. Reduce blue light exposure in the evening
  2. Don’t consume caffeine late in the day
  3. Reduce irregular or long daytime naps
  4. Try to have a consistent sleeping routine
  5. Minimize external noise or light
  6. Exercise regularly but not right before bed
5. The Power of Pets

Walking with a dog or having a feline around can be extremely beneficial for students. New research published last month showed that university and higher education students showed significant stress-management improvement when spending time with pets.

The paper Incorporating Human-Animal Interaction into Academic Stress Management Programs: Effects on Typical and At-Risk College Students’ Executive Function says that executive function in students improved after they spent one hour a week for a month with therapy dogs.

The study went on to find that students that took part in traditional stress management over the same period as those that were allowed to interact with therapy dogs showed no improvement in stress or executive functioning

AERA Open, a journal of the American Educational Research Association mentions that while animal interaction programs at American universities and colleges are emerging, prior research hasn’t given definitive benefits of therapy animals on campuses.

For the latest study, 309 undergraduate students were assigned one of three stress management programs. Each of the three groups had different lengths of exposure to therapy dogs combined with traditional stress management.

Within the group, 121 students were identified as being vulnerable academically. This was due to poor academic performance, mental health impositions, or learning difficulties.

One group spent one full hour a week with a therapy dog, one group spent 30 minutes with a therapy dog and then received stress management education for 30 minutes. The last group only received stress management instruction and activities for a full hour.

The at-risk students from the pool of 121 students that spent time with dogs a full hour showed significant improvement in terms of their executive functioning capabilities. At-risk students that spent a half-hour with dogs or no time at all showed almost no improvement. Other students that took part in the study, those that are deemed not at risk academically – showed no significant improvement whether they interacted with therapy dogs or not at all.

It’s believed that animal interaction for the group of at-risk students that had time with dogs exclusively was distracted from negative and stressful thoughts which led to a state of relaxation. The study maintains that this state of relaxation itself was more valuable than stress management instruction and classes the other students had to take part in.

References

Pendry, P., Carr, A., Vandagriff, J. L., & Gee, N. (2021). (2021). Incorporating human animal interaction into academic stress management programs: effects on typical and at-risk college students’ executive function. AERA Open. Published May 12, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1177/23328584211011612

Lina Begdache, Maher Chaar, Nasim Sabounchi & Hamed Kianmehr (2017): Assessment of dietary factors, dietary practices and exercise on mental distress in young adults versus matured adults: A cross-sectional study, Nutritional Neuroscience, DOI: 10.1080/1028415X.2017.1411875

Begdache L, Sadeghzadeh S, Derose G, Abrams C. Diet, Exercise, Lifestyle, and Mental Distress among Young and Mature Men and Women: A Repeated Cross-Sectional Study. Nutrients. 2020 Dec 23;13(1):24. doi: 10.3390/nu13010024. PMID: 33374693; PMCID: PMC7822407.

Heckman, Stuart & Lim, Hanna & Montalto, Catherine. (2014). Factors Related to Financial Stress among College Students. Journal of Financial Therapy. 5. 10.4148/1944-9771.1063.

Goyal, Pratibha & Chakrawal, Alok & Banerjee, Richa. (2021). Causes of Stress among Students in Higher Educational Institutions in India. Journal of International Cooperation and Development. 4. 48. 10.36941/jicd-2021-0003. Chenlu Gao, Nikita Chapagain, Taylor Terlizzese, Daniel Zeter, Paul Fillmore, Michael K Scullin, Ph.D, 0095 Classical Music During Slow Wave Sleep Facilitates Educational Learning: A Targeted Memory Reactivation Experiment with Immediate and 9-Month Follow-Up Testing, Sleep, Volume 42, Issue Supplement_1, April 2019, Page A39, https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/zsz067.094

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