How Long Should I Study For?
Let’s consider two typical college students. Mary feels passionate about getting an “A” on the next economics test. So for one week solid, she studies in three hour increments. She scarcely takes a break during these marathon study sessions. Yet, to her exasperation, she still only manages to get a C+.
Rodney is in the same economics class. He has spent the past four weeks studying class material, about 45 minutes a day, in 20 minute chunks, separated by a five minute break. To some people’s amazement, he gets A-Pluses regularly, and he did so on the economics test.
So what made the difference? Shouldn’t that A-Plus belong to Mary? Not at all. Because Rodney learned to master his study time better than Mary did. He learned that: a) Effective time management (studying over a long period of time instead of just a night or two before the test) is better than cramming; and b) the brain is not as effective in retaining knowledge after a certain amount of time–usually 20 to 50 minutes at a time. With all of that said, here are four time-management tips that will make you a more effective and efficient studier.
1) Start by understanding how much you should be studying each week. If you’re in junior high or high school, or studying for a high school entrance exam like the SSAT, ISEE or HSPT, there’s a good rule thumb that goes like this: Study the same number of hours per week as your current grade level. Seventh-graders study seven hours a week; 10th graders study 10 hours, and so on. Once you know this, you can divide these hours by the number of days you plan to study. If you’re a 10th grader and you only want to study five days a week, that means you should plan two hours of study each day.
2) If you’re in college, the rule of thumb is a bit different. The traditional rule says that you should study two hours for every hour that your class meets. In reality, every student has easy courses that require much less study time. Still, for the difficult classes, the two-for-one ratio is a good idea.
3) As we alluded to earlier, study in 20 to 50 minute periods. The brain has to take time to form new memories, and if you keep studying flat out, you actually hinder this memorization process. Between every 20 to 50 minute study period, take a five or 10 minute break. If possible, during this time, do something physical, in order to start the blood pumping again and make your brain more alert. You might do some jumping jacks, jog once around the house, play with your dog or cat–anything that gets you moving! Don’t wear yourself out, though, or you’re just defeating your purpose. More on How Long Should You Study.
4) Finally, don’t get so involved in extended study sessions that you neglect sleep time. It’s important for your health and for your grades that you get ample sleep time. If you don’t believe it, consider this: If you sleep just four to five hours, you’ll probably have to double your amount of study time to be as effective as if you’d slept seven to nine hours. That’s right: You’ll get better grades if you sleep more and study a little less. And if, despite your best intentions, you’re still a bit sleep deprived, try taking a short 20 minute nap before you study. You’ll be amazed at how effective a quick “power nap” is at restoring your alertness! More on Sleep.
Remember: It’s not always how much you study, but how well you manage your study time.
About the Author Brian is a writer and web developer living in Victoria BC. He has a BA in Economics and an MA in Psychology. Brian has written and published widely on education, testing, psychology and popular culture.