As in our last post regarding the development of study skills, one of the most important things to remember is that study skills, as with all skills, require both teaching and practice. Last time we discussed the importance of studying for more than the test; beginning your study time in the classroom; setting up specific times for studying; and maintaining/developing a positive, safe space for studying and asking questions.
But, as with most skills, studying is multifaceted and only grows more intricate and nuanced the older you get and the more complex your study subjects become.
So this time, let’s focus on the importance of Setting Study Goals, Keeping Organized, and Getting Motivated.
Setting Study Goals
Setting goals is one of the very best places to start when it comes to studying. Studying can often feel like wading through an endless bog without clear direction or ending: When does studying end — when all knowledge is clear and the tests are passed with flying colors or somewhere before then? Or somewhere after? Where do you begin? What’s the best use of study time? How do I know where to focus my time on each subject?
Setting predefined, realistic goals is one of the fastest ways to bypass these classic, nagging questions.
Before beginning any study session, make a list of what subjects you want to tackle during that specific session. Are you going to spend this session working on the trombone or are you going to plunge into the wilds of Charles Dickens? Are you going to review your chemistry notes or get those calculus problems squared away? While it is, of course, necessary to practice and study for all of your subjects and skills, it’s also important to know that you can’t do everything in a single evening – no matter how early you begin or how late you stay up.
- isolate those things that were most difficult for you in class,
- isolate those things that feel most pressing for other classes,
- and isolate those things that seem to best connect the two.
Once you’ve got these things pinned down, create a game plan! How much time are you going to allot to each subject and why? What do you want to walk away from this study session knowing or having improved upon? Is there one particular skill or technique you want to strengthen? Is there one particular type of problem you want to become more familiar or comfortable with? Is there one book you need to finish reading or one set of Spanish vocabulary words you need to have memorized/absorbed?
Beginning each study session by defining your goals will not only help you keep focused and on track in your studying, but will also help you improve your time management skills and to feel more productive as you begin to better recognize the incremental accomplishments of each session.
Keeping Organized & Cutting Stress Off at the Pass
Organization is a key component of success in virtually every situation. As with setting goals, making certain that you, your study space, and your study materials are all well-organized will help you make the most of your study sessions and to keep from growing needlessly stressed. After all, who hasn’t sat down to do some test prep only to suddenly discover some crucial page of class notes is either missing or totally indecipherable thanks to sloppy handwriting or poor/nonexistent formatting/organization?
Stress is a monster of the mind that can be easily headed off at the pass when you prepare with simple attention to organization. When you take notes in class or from a book, make certain that those notes are either in a spiral or somehow secured within a binder or folder – don’t let a rogue loose-leaf be the stress of you. Once you’ve got your notes in a safe, runaway-proof place, make certain that the notes you then take on those sheets are organized in some regular fashion so that when the Tired After School You goes to review what you wrote earlier in the day as Bored or Distracted in Class You, you’ll be able to understand not only what your teacher was saying, but what you were thinking at the time.
Ever seen someone giving a lecture who suddenly pauses in mid-speech to squint at a page before, laughingly, apologizing for the fact that they can’t read their own handwriting? This can be a bigger problem than you know. Not only does poor handwriting mean that crucial details can be forgotten or lost, but it can also mean that you haven’t been paying as close attention in class as you ought to. Especially if you’re someone who struggles with remaining attentive when being lectured to, giving a bit more focus to the clarity of your handwriting in note-taking can help not only with your general organization but also with helping you focus on the task/lesson at hand.
So, now that you’ve got your notes neatly written and well-organized before you, also make sure to keep your study space just as well put together – don’t leave distractions resting on your desk (whether they’re toys, cellphones, computers, or video games), don’t let your desk get so cluttered that you can’t find any of the tools necessary to getting work done (such as pens, pencils, and papers), and make sure that you try to station yourself in a spot with as few inherent/obvious distractions as possible (for example, setting up your study session in the middle of the living room floor before the television set probably isn’t the most study-friendly spot in the home).
I’m sure no one is surprised to find that getting motivated is one of the hardest parts of studying even though we all know and understand the importance and value of studying to our educational lives. However, it is often precisely this line of thinking – that studying is important for education – that can tend to be a killjoy when it comes to getting motivated to actually do the studying. After all, spending time doing something for a class that’s only three to four months long can often seem like a waste or unimportant. However, what we all so often fail to keep in mind is that, like education, studying isn’t just about passing a test or a class, it’s about improving yourself for the rest of your life, it’s about preparing yourself for a much wider and more amorphous world than you could ever dream of or fully anticipate.
So, when you’re trying to psych yourself up for a study session and just aren’t feeling the pull to take that extra step forward (whether it be in Spanish, piano, or chemistry), just remember that you’re not doing this for your grade, your teacher, your school, or for some ghostly college entrance exam – you’re doing this for you. Knowledge isn’t simply power, it’s a means of giving yourself an extra foothold in the world, of giving you greater self-confidence and appreciation for both yourself and the world. Studying may seem like small potatoes when you’re in elementary, middle, and high school, but just remember that life is much larger than these and that you’ll want all the tools possible at your disposal when it finally comes time to leave semester finals and standardized exams behind.