Study Better – Part 1 – Remove the Barriers

One of the biggest advantages teenagers have today over teenagers of the past is their widespread access to information. Gone are the days of painstaking research using Dewey Decimal systems or Microfiche, and in their place are days of quality internet searches, high quality video, and easier collaboration.

Unfortunately, with a high amount of information comes also the problems of overwhelm and bad information. One of the most inspiring qualities we’ve noticed increase in our students over the years is their dedication to their studies: more and more students are willing to put in extra work to improve their grades and their ACT or SAT scores. However, one of the most depressing aspects we’ve also seen is a huge increase in the amount of poor study habits: habits that not only take away from their goals but also increase their time spent studying.

My goal in this series is to help students and families cut through some of the misinformation out there and bring everyone back to basics (that work). Today’s focus is going to be not on your actual study time, but on the setup of your study time: removing the barriers so that you continue to study!

1. Removing the Decision 

I first came across this idea on a fitness blog. The idea was if you set out your clothes the night before in your gym bag, along with your protein bar, water, and workout clothes, you were much more likely to wake up to  your alarm and actually go to the gym. The decision was removed, everything was set up for you to go to the gym. It sounded silly to me until I considered the alternative: waking to an alarm with nothing set out, looking around at the 6 small tasks I had to do, every one of which was an opportunity to talk myself out of going to the gym. It borders on tricking yourself, but it was hands-down the easiest trick I’ve ever implemented to get myself to consistently do something.

The same holds for your studying – if you have a designated time and study place on specific days, with all pencils sharpened, a calculator ready, highlighters on hand, a lamp on the desk, etc., you are so much more likely to actually do it. Nudge yourself towards success and find small psychological cues to remove the decision to study.

2. Remove the Distraction(s)

First, move your phone, tablet, Switch, etc. out of sight and touch. Don’t put it on your desk, don’t put it in your pocket – completely detach it from yourself. Researchers at the University of Texas (news release here) have found the mere presence of your phone makes you less intelligent!

What if you’re a student at Cathedral and you’re required to use your iPad to complete your homework? Good question! At the very least, put your iPad on Airplane mode, but you also may choose to invest in the hard-copy version of your books (and spend time investigating beforehand what overlaps question-wise and what doesn’t).

Second, turn your attention to your study space itself. If your designated study space is your own room, have your desk face away from any distractions. These can take the form of a window, your bed, pictures of your friends, your closet, etc. – whatever it is that you find personally distracting.

If your designated study space is your family dining room table, choose a time to study in which the family is naturally quiet, whether this is before your parents get home from work, or before everyone goes to bed. If no such time exists, consider asking your parents for a “quiet hour” a few times a week. It also may be wise to look elsewhere – check your local library or coffee shop and experiment on times to see what time of day has the optimal traffic flow for you. Research from the University of Illinois suggests there is a proper range of ambient noise for creative thought (article available here from NY Times).

In Short

Removing barriers to studying success can have a huge impact on your ability without a large amount of effort. Make sure to remove both the decision to study and the distractions from studying to give yourself the best possible opportunities! Stay tuned for further aspects of study tips around the actual studying you do, how to keep your success going, and favorite resources. And as always, please let us know if you have any questions or insights to add!

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