How can I bring myself to actually study at school?
November 11, 2006 11:56 PM   Subscribe

How do people actually bring themselves to study? I mean, it's just so... *yawn*

I transferred from a community college into 3rd year at university and I can see my grades slipping from the B+ / A range into the C/B- range (even a D in one course) and it's definitely concerning me. In my city, many people do this college to university transfer for economic reasons, and very few, that i know of, have experienced this collapse in GPA; so it's not simply because the college grading system was a lot easier.

I believe a major contributing factor is that I'm having trouble dedicating myself to regular studying; even though when I do study, I tend to enjoy it and get quite a lot done.
It's just that, when my options are either to study, or do something else... ANYTHING else, i'll always pick that.
Surely other people have gone through periods like this at university. So, what have you people done to help you retain focus, and get yourself more interested in picking up a textbook and reading chapter after chapter?
(I won't try any drug suggestions, but feel free to share your experiences, if they helped)

Another interesting comment is that I really enjoy doing homework assignments, and get into them in a big way as soon as they're assigned. don't know why i can do this, but not study.
posted by wumpus to Education (21 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I'm in that same way right now, and honest to god, you just have to tell yourself over and over and over again that you like it, this is enjoyable. The real breakthrough is when you feel like you're making progress, you'll want to keep going from there.
I am still working at 12am on a Saturday night, and have been going since 9am this morning (with breaks, don't be silly) but it's because I truly do enjoy grappling with these problems until they're done.
Start making outlines, start taking notes. Read a page, then sit down with a blank piece of paper and put that information that you just read on the paper. Mutter to yourself, just make sure you can form a picture of that information. It takes forever, because you never had to learn how to study.
posted by lilithim at 12:06 AM on November 12, 2006

Study groups. Save. Your. Bacon.

Join one, or start your own.
posted by paulsc at 12:13 AM on November 12, 2006

Steve Pavlina suggests that reframing the task from a "should do" or "have to do" to a "want to do" item makes a big difference. The thought of the end result of the study = a degree & a good job could be the reason for that kind of reframing.

Also, I suggest schedule your butt off. When you find it impossible to sit and work, write a to do list with very small items, open book, read first page, write ten keywords. Then do it. Cross it off. Take a ten minute (timed) break. Do it again.

Try to get ahead of your classes at the start of semester, so that if something goes wrong (ie castrophic failure of motivation) you can coast to the end.

Do it differently. If you normally study at home, do it at the library or in the park. Do it at night instead of the morning.

Schedule the fun first - blank out times when you won't study at all. Then schedule the study and don't do anything but study then.

There's a bunch of different methods, but in the end, finally, I think we have to suck it up. Man, look around, have you seen some of the people with degrees? If they can do it, surely we can.
posted by b33j at 12:53 AM on November 12, 2006

Step 1 - create yourself a working environment. Don't study in your bedroom where there are TVs, computers, Xboxes etc. Either clear everything out of your bedroom and have a definite work zone, or go to the most high-level library on campus (eg the one where all the professors do their work). This will give you a space where you have little to do but work, and going somewhere that is likely to have academics there will contribute to the atmosphere, and stop you talking to other students or finding distractions.

Step 2 - find some study friends. I had a group of friends, about 4 or 5 of them, who all revised with me during finals. For 8 weeks before exams we were in the library at 9am, break for coffee at 11am, break for lunch at 1pm, break for coffee at 3pm, break for dinner at 6pm, back in the library till 10pm, then a pint in the pub and so to bed. Looking back this seems ridiculously hardcore but we all did very well and I'm sure it's because of the routine we established. None of us wanted to let the side down.

Step 3 - establish short-term goals. It sounds like homework assignments are giving you structured goals in a way that taking a textbook just isn't. So set yourself some goals. Say you're studying history - tell yourself that by the end of the afternoon you'll have covered the textbook=-s section on a 50 year period. Then in the evening you'll note two books which deal with specific economic issues in the period. Then tomorrow you'll spend going over articles in journals. Then you'll do an essay plan the morning after. In particular, if you can divide these tasks into "need brain engaged" and "don't really need brain engaged", you've got a list of things to do when you're tired, grumpy or on autopilot.

Step 4 - repeat ad infinitum. This is about forming a habit. You're not going to do that in an afternoon. You just need to keep slogging away. It will take a month or two. This will be a fairly horrible month or two, but once you've got into the swing of it you ought to be able to keep going for hours.

I went through all of these steps at university, having arrived there with a real hatred of non-structured learning (I needed lots of activities and short-term goals). Now I can't think of anything better than sitting in a library or archive and just immersing myself in books for hours.
posted by greycap at 12:53 AM on November 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

You say that you can do assignments but not study.

Could you create a timetable of fake homework assignments for yourself? Could you talk to a TA in your course (or a friend?) and try to reach an arrangement with them? They must have noticed that you are not doing well in class, and should help you setting up a plan to do better.

Suppose you need to read four chapters in the next two weeks. Maybe you can arrange with your TA that you will half of the reading by Tuesday and then write up some notes on it. You'll send them the notes by Tuesday; they don't have to look them over, but they'll send you an email saying that you're sticking to the timetable. If they don't get your notes on time, they'll hassle you about it when they see you next?

(Also, as a side note: if this pattern persists, and you enjoy doing assignments but find you can't motivate yourself to sit down to study freely, then don't go to grad school. It will be almost entirely the kind of work you don't like.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:35 AM on November 12, 2006

wumpus, I seriously sympathise with you, as I am in the same situation as you right now. I am in the middle of my exam block, yet can't seem to make myself stay motivated to study, lt alone i the middle of semester. It just always seems that there is something better to do.

I think the first thing that you have to do is to tell yourself why you are doing what you are doing, why you are studying it and what you plan to do when you finish it. I currently am up in the air over where my degree is going to lead, but I have friends who have very specific goals (like being accepted into post-grad medicine) which is a huge motivating factor for them.

As mentioned above, you have to also convince yourself that you enjoy studying whatever subject you are studying (even if it is one of those boring as hell core subjects that you need to satisfy your degree requirements). It will make it a whole lot easier.

Work out how you study best. I have a large family and there are always people coming and going from my house, so there is persistent noise. I find that music that I am familiar with blocks out this noise and the other distractions. It also proves useful in scheduling regular breaks. I have a 3CD changer mini hifi system, so I put my 3 cd's in and don't allow myself to take a break until the music stops. I also find that I study best until about 4pm. Luckily, I am a morning person so waking up at 5 or 6am to study doesn't really bother me.

Also, set yourself some rewards for studying. Saying to yourself that you will go visit a friend or watch something on tv only if you get through the work that you have to do is also great.

Also, resist the temptation to get onto the internet. That 10 minutes catching up on MeFi will soon turn into an hour, no matter what you tell yourself.
posted by cholly at 1:58 AM on November 12, 2006

Study groups work, even if the group is one friend. Find someone who can study and let that person be your mentor. Sit with that person and don't quit until that person quits. Just don't drag that person down -- if you have a problem, don't spread it like a contagion.

Tutoring might be best if you have a particularly tough subject you can't focus on. Pay someone to cram it into your head. Handing a tutor your beer money in cash straight out of your pocket will make you work harder to get your money's worth (and, not incidentally, reduce the amount of time you can drink away your study hours).

But also think about what you are studying -- it seems to me that you don't really like the subject or you would enjoy studying it. Did you pick a crap major just because you want the paycheck? Is it too late to switch to something you would actually like spending the rest of your life doing?
posted by pracowity at 2:00 AM on November 12, 2006

if you're not really motivated -- are you sure this is really the field you wish to spend the better part of your life dwelling over?

nothing is worse than getting up every monday morning to go to a job you hate, you know.
posted by krautland at 2:22 AM on November 12, 2006


the only thing to ever get me to study was a deadline - either a submission deadline or an exam date...this was the only way with me from the back end of secondary education right through undergraduate and postgraduate study and also professional exams.


i'd work out what my essay/report was going to be on (including what conclusion i was going to come to) and photocopy relevant articles/download them and put them to one side.

then id skim read them the night before the assignment was due and type up during the night. get a couple of hours sleep in the morning, proof read and submit. worked up to 3500 words.

anything longer than that, or anything that required data analysis takes longer obviously and more preparation.

for 10000 words or so i'd download articles and go and sit in a cafe or pub or somewhere and read...not the library ever.

exam preparation

for exam preparation i'd get hold of past exam questions and look over them some time before the exam.

if i felt that they contained a load of stuff i had never heard of i'd start doing some high level research to find out where to get the information.

i'd also analyse the exam questions and marking guides (if available) and work out what things you get marks for and what not.

call it playing the system. my approach was always to do as much work as nescessary not more - especially for professional exams.

make it 'userfriendly'

depending on the format of your work i'd also bear in mind that making it userfriendly goes a long way.

make sure you use paragraphs, punctuation, word processing things well goes a long way to bringing the marker on your side.

same goes for hand written exam scripts. more often than not scripts/work is marked by tired people in the middle of the night and if they can't read it or it takes very long to work out what you want to say you've had it....

and don't tell me not fair or whatever - such is life.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:49 AM on November 12, 2006

Interesting that the first few answers concentrated on getting you to like studying. As I read it, you just want to be able to make yourself do it. With that in mind...

Carrots and sticks. You DO NOT get carrots before you do your predetermined amount of work/study. It's all about delay of gratification. Social embarassment is a good stick. So I second the study-group and creation-of-assignments recommendations (if the latter comes with someone to check it).

Also, try cross-procrastinating. Having several things you don't want to do can be useful when you play one off against another. The daily business gets done in lieu of studying subject X which you find boring. Subject X gets studied in lieu of subject Y, which you detest. And Subject Y gets studied as a break from the other things, because anything too long is just damned unpleasant.

And make sure you get plenty (but not too much) exercise. Nothing like itchy muscles to distract you from mental work.
posted by dreamsign at 5:00 AM on November 12, 2006

Homework is supposed to be a form of study, according to the theory that you learn by doing instead of by doing instead of by reading. As you can manage to do the homework, I think the solution is clear: do more homework instead of studying.

You said you are doing the homework quickly after it's assigned. This brings up a question: a week later, or the week of the test, do you still know the material well enough to do the homework again? If not ... do it again.

(A corollary: is it possible that you're doing the assignments too early, when the material is in your short term memory?)
posted by cotterpin at 6:29 AM on November 12, 2006

trying to answer larger questios as part of your college experience can make the individual classes a little more relevant and useful as well. Also, try taking notes with MindMaps (see Tony Buzan and others, and the CMAP (free) software).
posted by mecran01 at 7:17 AM on November 12, 2006

I think it's worth noting the number of people who have favorited this thread: you are not alone. I am a A/A+ average student and I hate studying so much. I am bad for doing things at the last minute, the only thing that can make me study is deadlines. So to this purpose, I like to make mini-goals. The only article I have EVER read on 43 folders is this one on running a dash, which means setting mini-goals and hustling for either a finite period of time (ten minutes) or a particular task (read 3 pages). When I set one of these up, my day generally goes like this:

Maximum 8 minutes on each task
1)Read article 1
2)Put laundry in washer
3)Read article 1
4) Wash dishes
5) Metafilter
6) Read article 1
7) Wash dishes
8) Take notes on article 1
9)Change laundry over
10) Metafilter

And on and on...
There are various timers available online to help with this, although unfortunately I can't remember where.
posted by arcticwoman at 9:02 AM on November 12, 2006

I should mention that usually way before task #10 rolls around, I am interested in the article I'm reading or am finally in the mood to study (the alternative is laundry and dishes) and I just give up on my list and study.
posted by arcticwoman at 9:03 AM on November 12, 2006

nthing scheduling. I create a weekly calendar with each day split into hours. Then I assess how much study I need to do and fill in hours in the calendar as is required. This gives me a very simple and clear visual representation of when I'm studying and, more importantly, when I'm not.
And in doing so, you're basically creating a schedule that you're OK with - otherwise, you just end up in that awful cycle of not enjoying your free time because you think you should be studying.
posted by forallmankind at 9:13 AM on November 12, 2006

Last year for awhile I was on a big 10+2 kick: I would study for 10 minutes straight, then take a 2 minute break. The result was studying 50 minutes of every hour -- not bad, considering what the ratio would be without these kinds of goals.
posted by pril at 9:30 AM on November 12, 2006

I was in my second year of college before I found my best study method. I often fell asleep or got bored when simply reading over texts or study guides.I had to make it a game so I could stay interested.

Usually I would make flash cards from the text or my notes. Get a pack of index cards. Write the question on one side, the answer on the other side. Write every question that could possibly be on the test.

Start at the top and go through them all once. The second pass through, take the ones you get right out of the stack. Watch as the stack gets smaller. Once you've gone through the entire stack, run through it again. Try to see how many you can get in the first pass--I had to try to top myself in order to stay interested.

It's even better if you have someone willing to read the questions for you, so you aren't tempted to peek.

I did this for pretty much every test I took, and my grades went way up.
posted by saucy at 12:18 PM on November 12, 2006

I always found it useful to pack up all my study stuff and go somewhere, whether it be the library or a coffee house. Once you're there with only your books, there's nothing else to do and it seems like more effort to you study! Works for me. In fact, time to head to the library so I stop reading ask mefi and start reading about contracts.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 1:01 PM on November 12, 2006

If I need to write an essay, I try to do all the smaller tasks beforehand. Read a chapter of a book, write down some quotes to use, etc. Nothing all that major, but it feels like I'm doing something so I don't feel guilty. Then when it's the last day and I need to write it all in one night, at least I have some stuff to work with and have been vaguely thinking about it for a while.

Also: muscat. I don't know if this counts as a drug, but down here in South Australia I can buy delicious muscat from the many wineries for not much money, and it sits beside me on the desk as I study. I don't get trashed on it, but just pour a glass and sip it as I go along. It's a good reason to stay at the desk.
posted by twirlypen at 1:53 PM on November 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

This page countering complaints about college really inspired me to work harder.
posted by GregX3 at 7:46 PM on November 12, 2006

If you do index cards, don't always do them in a stack all the way through. Carry them with you, and pull them out on the bus, in line, between classes. Suffle, proceed through however many you can in the moment you have.

Carry one textbook/coursenotes/article with you for the day, and read excerpts whenever you have a few moments.

Make sure you understand your assignments.

Review the syllabus. What are the goals of the course? Ask how each reading/assignment helps you achieve the goals (why did the teacher pick *this* reading?). Make sure that you are studying effectively, and weighting you time on the different components appropriately. If the syllabus doesn't help, then go to office hours and discuss study strategies with your prof.

Read your notes after class and make corrections. Read the week's worth once at the end of each week. This will drastically increase your retention and reduce the amount of time you need to study for tests.

When reading text books:

Read the chapter intro. Read the chapter conclusion. Read any chapter questions. Read the chapter, looking for the answers to the chapter questions. Break up your reading by section, and take frequent short breaks to do other things.

When reading academic articles:

Read the introduction. Read the conclusion. Write down the main argument, and how you think the author is trying to support the argument. Read the article, making notes on how the author supports their argument, and any points at which their support is weak or wrong. Take breaks by section, as needed.

Oh, and if you don't already, start attending every class. Profs often give exam hints as rewards to those who show up, especially on low-attendance days. Plus, class time is like concentrated study/learning time. If you try to do your reading before every class, you will see what the prof emphasises from the readings, and develop a sense about how the prof interprets the readings. This will add another layer of learning to your overall study method.
posted by carmen at 8:37 AM on November 13, 2006

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