I've always been smart, but I haven't always done very well in school. Especially in elementary and middle school, I struggled to fit my learning to a typical classroom environment. Throughout the years I have gradually developed a series of techniques that work well for me, allowing me to be succeed in school without sacrificing mental or physical health--my most important priorities.
These strategies were what allowed me to get into a college like Harvard, and do quite well there. This article, and the accompanying video, will be primarily geared towards studying in general (including general homework, tests, exams). A later video will cover more principles specifically geared towards exam and test review.
1. Right Body, Right Mind
Your mind is part of your body. If you neglect your body, you are also neglecting your mind. If you take care of your body, you take care of your mind. Taking care of your body is easy:
If you're a student, you need at least 8 hours of sleep a night. Any less, and you start going into sleep debt and your mind will not be performing at 100%. This is not conducive to doing well in school.
Studying uses a lot of energy. Energy comes from what we eat. If you eat junk foods, you won't have access to this energy and you will be distracted from studying by how awful your body feels. But if you eat well, you will have lasting energy and your body will feel good--meaning that your mind will feel good as well. Hydration is also incredibly important for mental performance, more on that later.
Moderate exercise has an immediate benefit to your mental performance. Your cognition is improved, meaning that you will have better memory and thinking skills. If you take at least 15 minutes a day to bike, jog, or walk, your mental performance will shoot through the roof. Just be careful not to have a crazy hard workout right before sitting down to study, because your body and mind will want to shut down instead of get to focused work.
2. Right Environment
Building a good study environment is critical to actually getting work done. It's not very hard:
Non-Lyrical Music/White Noise
Lyrical music has a tendency to make you want to sing along, which distracts your inner monologue and therefore makes you less productive at work. I like to listen to rain sounds while I study, or classical music. This drowns out any noise from the outside world without distracting me.
Having tea/water around while studying is something that I've found helps me focus. Staying hydrated is part of fueling your body but also has a really good mental effect (at least on me). Being able to sip something while working is like productive fidgeting. It also reminds my body that I'm in "study mode", so I don't get distracted.
3. Right Work
If we're going to dedicate time to sleep and exercise, we need to be sure that we are efficient with our time. This means that we have to be sure that we're doing the right work (choosing the right battles), and that we're doing our work right. Doing our work right boils down to having focused work, which I achieve using the pomodoro method:
The Pomodoro Method
I use a method of study called the "Pomodoro Method". It essentially breaks 30 minute periods into a 25 minute session of focused work and a 5 minute session of rest. I won't go on my phone or do anything except the task at hand while in the 25 minute session, and I won't do anything productive in the 5 minute rest.
Have a Focused Purpose
You should know exactly what you are working on right now and you should develop a plan so you don't have to worry about what to do next. This way, you can dedicate all of your time into actually working as opposed to stressing about how much work you have yet to do.