April 20, 2024


Serving the university community

By Victor Chijioke

Benedict Carey explains the idea of varying study spots nicely here:
“We can easily multiply the number of perceptions connected to a given memory—most simply,
by varying where we study.”

  • Don’t study on your bed. You are either reading or sleeping.
  • Don’t study with friends or coursemates. Study alone. You should only do quizzes with
  • Take breaks at regular intervals. It’s not necessary to use a rigid Pomodoro technique. Read
    when you feel focused, take breaks when you begin to feel distracted. Plan ahead to fit in some
    other productive thing during the breaks. You could take a walk, or, depending on the length of
    the break, run some errands or do some chores.
    If you plan to read for a whole day, for example, as you go longer into study you’ll need longer
    breaks and begin to have shorter study times. When you begin to do less learning and more
    staring-at-the-book, then it’s time to stop. Reading when you’re physically and mentally tired is
    not optimal. Avoid what Cal Newport calls “pseudo-work”.
  • Spread your study sessions out over the day or week, so you can optimize the learning curve,
    stop when you’re distracted (because you have enough time), and capitalize on the benefits of
    incubation. Incubation is a kind of ‘distraction’ that involves leaving study for a short period of
    time, when study is difficult or cracking a problem is hard, to do other things and coming back to
    study later. During this period when you’re not studying, your brain has been found to be
    processing the info you’ve just learnt and making new connections to it. Such that when you
    come back to studying, you realize that you understand better, or are able to make progress in
    solving a problem. Incubation periods can range from a number of minutes to a number of hours.
    Sleeping time is also an incubation period.
    Incubation is especially important for your learning if your study involves solving scientific or
    mathematical problems or thinking creatively about answers.
  • Spread out your study over the semester, and over this ongoing strike period. Find a
    comfortable number of hours per day or week, pick a piece of course material and study at the
    same rate. Over time, it adds up, it removes the panic and suboptimal performance that is a result
    of “doing it all at once” when the testing period draws near, and it helps you utilize the benefits
    of percolation. Percolation involves the same process as incubation, only that percolation time is
    way longer.

5. Sleep! Don’t oversleep, don’t undersleep

One thing that you hear well enough, and understand easily, is probably the fact that you
shouldn’t study when you are feeling sleepy. Many students leave their academic work till the
night before tests or exams and end up having to do all-night, marathon study sessions because
they “have no choice” or “can’t help it”. They study with a brain that’s in the worst state

While some students are night owls and actually sleep in the daytime to read at night when it is
peaceful, it is becoming a night study movement for many others who are most likely not
disciplined enough to spread out reading periods over time.
Worthy of note is the fact that, majority of research in the field of learning science indicates that
it is best to study when your body and mind is at peak performance, whenever that is.

The following tips can help you find the balance between sleep and vitality:

  • Avoid sleep-inducing foods. Try to maintain peak performance when you’re awake by
    eating foods, fruits and vegetables. Treat food as a source of energy and vitality, not as a
    mere enjoyment source. This means more proper foods and less snacks around study
  • Maintain a regular sleep cycle. Resist the urge to take quick naps often. It can ruin your sleep
    cycle, and waste your time during the day. If you’re maintaining a regular sleep cycle, you’re
    least likely to find yourself dozing during study time.
  • When you’re feeling sleepy during study time, do other things instead.
    Benedict Carey also has these interesting recommendations for sleeping before tests and exams:
  • If you’re prepping for a math or chemistry test, an exam that’s going to strain your ability
    to detect patterns, it is better to stay up late and, if possible, sleep in the morning.
  • When preparing for a test of retention, like new vocabulary, or filling in the periodic
    table. Arrange your studying so that you sleep at your regular time, get a strong dose of
    deep sleep—and roll out of bed early for a quick review before dawn.


To the extent that you want to learn as a student, you must learn how to learn. Going through
school so far might have required fake concentration and last minute cramming, but if you are
going to make greater strides in academic or self learning, you’re going to have to develop
efficient study skills and habits. These study skills and habits can help you get the best out of
your study time, make study more enjoyable, fuel an increase in study time and help you achieve
success with less pain.

What To Do Next:

  1. Get interested in understanding how you’re learning and how to improve on it. (If you’re satisfied
    with how well you’re doing, don’t bother.
  2. Read books, watch videos on study skills and methods. Apply what you learn. Not every new
    tactic or idea will work, so experiment — drop what doesn’t work for you and stick with what
  3. Continually observe how you study and optimize where necessary

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