British Universities believe that for a full time degree you should study for 1,200 hours a year, which is 30 hours a week. However the thought of studying for just one hour brings many people out in a cold sweat. Stella Cottrell, author of The Study Skills Handbook, shares her views on the anxiety of studying and how best to overcome it.
Students who do best often just enjoy the subject so they read, think and talk about it more, they don’t necessarily see it as ‘study’. Looking for enjoyment can help ensure success.
Why does studying sometimes feel like such a huge task and where does the anxiety come from?
The more anxious we get, the harder it can be to think clearly, to make sense of information or to recall it when we need it. Much anxiety is based on false perceptions about personal ability, study requirements or the consequence of failure. You can manage such anxiety in a number of ways such as:
- Focusing on what you can do and what you will do next. Don’t dwell on what you can’t do - it just wastes time.
- Putting some study time aside to think through clearly what is really required.
- Breaking whole assignments down into smaller, manageable chunks for each study session so they are less daunting.
- Using opportunities to study with others.
- Celebrating small successes along the way.
What are personalised learning strategies and why use them?
Personalised learning is finding that unique combination of strategies and conditions that enable you to achieve your best performance.
Much of the time, most of us can learn without the need to find special strategies as learning is a natural part of being human. When we have to learn at speed or under pressure, then it becomes worth finding the set of strategies that suits our way of learning.
As a starting point to finding your own optimum strategies, you can test out whether you study most effectively when you:
- Block out the world and get down to it.
- Can talk about what you are studying.
- Keep going on a piece of study for many hours with minimal breaks.
- Work in frequent intense bursts with many short breaks.
- Use headings and bullet points to organise your ideas.
- Write all your ideas into a quick draft early on and then rework that draft.
How can you stop yourself from falling asleep when you are reading?
The best way of staying alert is to engage your interest. If you don’t find the subject naturally stimulating, you can devise methods to perk your interest.
- Start by browsing quickly through what you are going to read - your brain is then alerted to what to expect.
- Jot down a set of broad questions to structure your reading - searching for answers to these as you read focuses your attention.
- Identify personalised approaches to reading, for example are you more likely to stay focused at home or in the library? At a table or sat in a comfy chair?
Is there a short cut to absorbing information?
- Read a simple outline first - your brain can then find it easier to recognise meaning in the more complex information later on.
- Write out notes rather than simply highlighting important points as this requires more mental interaction in working out the meaning.
- Try a more ‘personal’ approach such as giving material a colour, singing it, varying the speed at which you read or looking for a point of comparison with something else you know about.
How do overcome mental blocks and kick your mind back into gear?
- Take a break, perhaps a few minutes but maybe longer if needed.
- Do something completely different for a while, so your brain can work on the subject unconsciously. The brain often draws unexpected answers from apparently unlinked activity.
- Go for a quick walk to release pent up adrenalin and energise your system.
- Sleep - the brain recalls information better after a good sleep, which may help you sort out the block naturally.
The quick message is, don’t worry if what appears to be good study advice just doesn’t seem to work for you. Have faith that there will be strategies that will enable you to succeed and keep experimenting until you find them.
Written by Stella Cottrell, author of The Study Skills Handbook