Science-Backed Ways to Start a New Study Habit

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It’s back-to-school time, and that means getting out of your summer job schedule (or – no judgement! – your days of sleeping in) and back into the habit of early mornings, days of classes and study sessions.

If you’re experiencing a bit of school culture shock, we don’t blame you. Launching into a brand new daily schedule can take a few days to get used to, and the alarm blaring at 6:30 a.m. can feel downright painful. But this is also the best time to learn new study habits that’ll help you all year round. Here’s how.

Set Smart Goals – And Prepare Yourself for Success

A little prep work will help you hit the ground running – yes, that means you have some homework before your homework.

Start by writing down realistic and measurable goals. Simply “do my homework every day,” for example, makes it easy to procrastinate. “I’ll do one to three hours of homework at my desk as soon as I come home from school” is more concrete and sets out exactly what you need to do to succeed. It also allows some flexibility, allowing you to study less during easy weeks but still meet your goal.

Create a dedicated space for you to work, and keep it free of clutter. And add a plant – a little greenery helps you stay productive.

Jump in Head-First

While adjusting to school might feel uncomfortable at first, a total overhaul of your day-to-day schedule is actually a great launching pad for forming new habits. That’s because we form habits by associative learning – through repeated patterns of behavior that fit into our lifestyle.

This learning pattern means that when you start a new lifestyle – like, say, going back to school – your shift in behavior is also the best opportunity to form new habits fast. The effect is even more pronounced if you’re also living in a new setting, like if you moved away for school.

So now’s the time to ditch all your less-than-effective study habits (like procrastination) cold turkey, and go all in on your new set of goals. If your goal is to finish all your homework as soon as you get home from school, for example, start on day one – even if you don’t have much work to do. Making after-school homework a habit now, when there’s not much to do, will make it easier to keep the habit when you’re sorting through mountains of homework later.

Treat Yourself

Associative learning works by linking your behaviors (like reviewing your class notes weekly) to rewards (like much easier review come exam time).

The problem? Study habits can take a while to pay off. You might be working for weeks until your first test – and waiting months to see how your new habits impact your midterms or report card.

The solution: Find new incentives to re-enforce your habits in the meantime. That could mean budgeting in some gaming time after your homework is done, enjoying your favorite snack while you work, or using an app, like Forest, that will reward you for each half-hour spent studying.

Over time, your brain will become less reliant on immediate rewards for sticking to your habit – but fully forming a new habit could take up to 254 days. In the meantime, treat yourself every time you meet your goals to stay motivated.

Once you’ve got your day to day routine down, you can add in other good habits slowly. Before you know it, you’ll be looking at record card with straight As.

References

About the Author

Sylvie Tremblay holds a Master of Science in molecular and cellular biology and has years of experience as a cancer researcher and neuroscientist. Before launching her writing business, she worked as a TA and tutored students in biology, chemistry, math and physics.

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