I get this question all the time from students. How can I study for 8, 12, 20 hours a day? Have a look at all the study questions over on Quora – this comes up all the time.
As always, I have to say that I don’t think setting study goals by the number of hours is very effective. But because I see this question so much, I wanted to address it. I actually think this is a question about focus, motivation, and time management. I have previously written about time management and motivation, so in this post I’ll focus on… focus!
First of all, focus on learning the material, not on the number of hours you study. I do not recommend that you build your study schedule around the number of hours you’ll study. It’s more important to study effectively, and figure out how to best use your time. You could pretty much always spend more time studying, more time reviewing, and more time working on that paper. Your time will be better spent finding the most effective study methods and then utilising those, rather than focusing on the number of hours you study for. Studying for 12 hours a day isn’t helpful if you’re not learning from it – you’d be better off studying effectively for a shorter period.
But if your struggle is focusing or concentrating on your studies, so that you can spend more time studying effectively, there are some things you can do:
Take Regular Breaks When Studying
Make sure you are taking breaks. When someone tells me they want to study continuously for 12 hours a day, I get worried. Humans need breaks!
You can’t study all day every day and not go completely insane. You need to have leisure time, rest time, social time, fun time, etc. Not taking enough breaks can result in a lack of motivation and interest in studying. These can generally be short breaks (the 5 minutes in pomodoros), but make sure you are also taking longer breaks, take a day or a half-day when you can and do something you find relaxing. Don’t feel guilty about taking breaks – you need them, and you will do better if you plan for them. If you don’t plan for breaks, then you’ll end up burned-out and just crawling into bed for five days because your brain is fried. I know, I’ve been there. Take a break, and then get back to work more refreshed.
Eliminate Distractions When Studying
Eliminate as many distractions as you can. Put away your phone, put on your headphones, and just focus on one thing at a time. Close all those other browser tabs, maybe even turn off your wifi if you don’t need it. I am guilty of forgetting to put my phone away, and that can have a big impact. If you want to use it as a study timer or calculator, put it in airplane or do-not-disturb mode first.
Having a dedicated study space is helpful, but not always possible. You might live with family, roommates, share a room or common space. If you are not able to have a quiet study space at home, there may be a place on campus or in the library that is available to you. You might also work in a coffee shop or some other public space. If you do not have access to a quiet space, then headphones can help you drown out distractions around you, too.
Use the Pomodoro Method
I wrote about the pomodoro method here, but it’s basically where you work for 25 minutes and then take a 5 minute break. If I’m not feeling focused, I use a pomodoro timer because I know I can focus for 25 minutes at a time. Then I take a break, and focus for 25 more minutes. Eventually, I will have either accomplished something in 25 minute increments (yay!), or I will be working on something when the timer goes, and I’ll just keep working because I’m in the study zone (yay!), so this usually works well for me. If you are having a really challenging day getting your studying done and concentrating for a long period of time, this method can help you still get work done.
Try Different Study Methods
If your study methods aren’t helping you learn material as efficiently or effectively as you would like, try something new. I have worked with so many students who study for hours and hours a day and are still not getting the grades they want. Usually, once I ask a few more questions, they’ll admit that they are just reading the textbook. Reading and re-reading the textbook is not an effective study strategy for most people. Just reading something doesn’t always help you understand and remember it. Usually, more active study methods like active review or self-testing will be more helpful.
Active review is a study method where you basically write down everything you remember from a lecture or reading, and then go back and fill in the blanks using your resources. So, for example, if you read an article or chapter on a topic, you would then write down everything you could recall. Then, you would go back to the article or chapter and use that to fill in the blanks in your notes, usually in another colour.
This is exactly what it sounds like – testing yourself on a topic. This might be through making up your own questions and trying to answer them, using questions from your textbook or other course materials, or even having questions on cue cards. Once you are comfortable with a question, move on to the ones that you’re not getting.
The reason these methods are more effective than just reading the textbook is because you are activating the information in your memory. It would take you hours and hours of re-reading a textbook to get the same amount of learning done.
Trying different study methods can also just be somewhat of a change in what you’re doing so you can bring more energy to it. If you have been studying with cue cards, try the active review method or other forms of self-testing and see how those go. Mixing different methods is ideal for helping you learn best. I have written more about study methods here, and there are loads of resources online so Google can also be a big help.
So, how can I study for 12 hours a day? Stop thinking about the number of hours, and start focusing on effectiveness. Instead, ask yourself, how can I study more effectively for less time?