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Avoid these 10 common study traps

With finals approaching and the added stresses caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, it's a good time to review bad study habits. Finish the semester successfully with these tips.

"I don't know where to begin."

Take Control. Make a list of everything you must do. Break your workload into manageable chunks. Prioritize! Schedule your time realistically. Don't skip classes near an exam—you may miss a review session. Interrupt study time with planned study breaks. See The Pomodoro Method for details on how to use planned study time.

"I've got so much to do . . . and so little time."

Preview. Survey your syllabus, reading material, and notes. Identify the most important topics emphasized, and areas you still don't understand. Remember that previewing is not an effective substitute for reading. The SQ3R Survey Question Read Recite Review technique is an effective preview tool.

"This stuff is so dry. I can't stay awake."

Attack! Get actively involved with the text as you read. Ask yourself, "What is important to remember about this section?" Take notes or underline key concepts. Discuss the material with others in your class.

"I read it. I understand it. But I can't get it to sink in."

Elaborate. We remember the things that are most meaningful to us. Try to integrate what you're studying with what you already know. The Learning Scientists have a video on Elaboration to help you make meaning of your material.

Chunking: An effective way to simplify and make information more meaningful.

Mnemonics: Any memory-assisting technique that helps us to associate new information with something familiar.

"I think I know the material"

Self-test. Make up questions about key sections from your notes or reading. Keep in mind what the professor has stressed in the course. Examine the relationships between concepts and sections.

"There's too much to remember."

Organize. You'll recall information better if it is represented in an organized framework that will make retrieval more systematic.

  • Write chapter outlines or summaries, and emphasize relationships between sections
  • Group information into categories or hierarchies, where possible
  • Try information mapping where you draw up a matrix to organize and interrelate material

"I knew it a minute ago."

Review. After reading a section, try to recall the information contained in it. If you can't recall enough, reread the portions you had trouble remembering. You can't over study.

"But I like to study in bed."

Context. Recall is better when where you study—the physical location, as well as mental, emotional, and physical state—is similar to where you test.

"Cramming before a test helps keep it fresh in my mind."

Spacing. Start studying now. Begin with an hour or two a day about one week before the exam. Increase study time as the exam approaches. Recall increases as study time gets spread out over time. See the Learning Scientists video on Spaced Practice for more details.

"I'm gonna stay up all night 'til I get this."

Avoid mental exhaustion. Take frequent short breaks when studying. When you take a study break, and just before you go to sleep at night, don't think about academics. Relax and unwind, both mentally and physically. Lesley's Mindfulness Studies program director Andrew Olendzki shares 5 tips for managing mindfully during a crisis. Otherwise, your break won't refresh you and you'll find yourself lying awake at night. Eat well, sleep, and get enough exercise.