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Getting to grips with how you study

There’s plenty of good advice online about improving various aspects of your study technique. But to apply these ideas, you need to understand where you are starting from. Understanding how you study allows you to consider whether you could do it better and adapt your methods to changes. When I returned to university after a break from full-time study, I found working out how I worked was suddenly critical: whereas previously I’d just ‘got on and done’, I discovered I couldn’t remember how. Believe me – it pays to be aware of and think about your approach to studying. Here’s five points to think about to start you off:

Know your work style

How do you work best: in the library, at home or some place else? In silence, listening to music or with some other background buzz? In longer or shorter bursts? Once you know this, you can start checking for problems and fine tuning your approach.

Know your work pattern

When do you work at your best: in the morning, afternoon or evening? Do you prefer days off at the weekend or shorter hours every day? Do you prefer routine fixed hours or do you need variety to keep you interested? See how your work already fits together before you think about revising your pattern.

Know thyself

Pay attention to how long it actually takes you to do different kinds of tasks. This allows you to plan realistically. You will be different to your class mates, you might take longer than them to do some things, and that’s OK. It really takes me at least an hour to ready a 15 page article closely.

Know your weaknesses

Do you neglect topics you find less interesting? Are you dreadful for short coffee breaks lasting four hours, or for never taking time out? Do you need to improve specific skills? Being aware of your weaknesses means you can take account of them when you plan and take action to improve.

Know your limits

I can put in a twelve hour day, but I know from experience that I’ll be useless the next day. So I won’t work more than eight and a half hours in any one day (an arbitrary but informed limit). This applies to other things too. How much sleep do you need to work productively? How many beers are too many if you have something important to do first thing in the morning?

I hope you find these suggestions helpful. I’ve certainly found some overlap going on between these points, but given that I hope I have a coherent approach to my work, maybe this isn’t so surprising. If you’ve got any tips on understanding your own work better, please share them below.

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