International students will notice that Americans are major multi-taskers. It’s not uncommon for students in the US to sit with an open textbook, an open laptop, and a smartphone, simultaneously skimming a paragraph, typing a note, and answering SMS messages. It may be impressive but it’s far from effective. The key to highly effective studying is focus; keep boundaries between social, entertainment, and academic activities to create more time for all three. Here’s how:
1. Turn Off
Turn off push notifications or set to “Do Not Disturb” mode while you read and study. This way you’ll maximize your study time so that you’re not distracted throughout your work periods. Power down your devices if possible. Use SelfControl to disable distracting websites on your laptop.
2. Set Goals
You have a huge amount of information to absorb—more than you can keep in mind in a single sitting. Don’t imagine yourself doing it all in one night or one day. Plan a reasonable amount of work for one sitting; for example, three chapters of anthropology and two chapters of statistics. Then reward yourself when you finish one of these goals by taking a 20 minute break.
3. Take Breaks
Stop! Put down your books. Give yourself a moment to rest. You’re human—your mind and body function better when they’ve had proper rest and a break from work every 2 hours. Watch a funny video on YouTube. Call a friend. Make yourself a meal. Whatever you do, make sure you stay as focused on your break as you do on your studying. Your mind will thank you for it.
4. Eat Healthy
Wholesome food is essential to your mind and body’s health. Starving yourself, eating sugary, processed foods, or consuming too much caffeine will exhaust your system. Healthy snacks like fruits, nuts, fresh vegetables, hummus and yogurt and replenish your energy. Avoid heavy, cooked meals that can weigh you down and sap your energy. Stay away from devices and books while you eat for a proper recharge.
5. Test Yourself
Reading study materials online is by far the least effective way to retain information. It’s better to read a textbook, highlight passages, and take notes. Better still is to test yourself on what you’ve read. Think about the key concepts from your reading. Imagine what kinds of questions you’d be asked on an exam. Try to put yourself in the mindset of your instructor and think, “What would they most like me to know?”