BY ANTON LUCANUS
With the advent of new technologies and social media, students at college are finding it increasingly difficult to focus and study effectively. Top ranked colleges across the United States are becoming so competitive that in order to stay afloat and thrive in their chosen field of study, students must consistently outperform peers – and the key to doing so is maintaining a high level of academic performance. Poor study habits are the downfall of many a student, and with so many varying approaches to effective study, how on earth are you supposed to know which is the best?
Here are some negative study habits that will without doubt impact your academic performance in the long run, so we recommend you address them as quickly as possible.
Not taking care of your eyes
While eye strain has not yet been proven to lead to longer-term, chronic health issues, it can certainly make it more difficult to work comfortably and focus for long periods of time. There are some quick fixes to the issue, including ibuprofen and eye exercises every 20 minutes, but there are some longer-term habit changes that need to be in place to make sure you can achieve pain free, successful study periods.
According to Doron Kalinko, Co-Founder of SmartBuyGlasses, “when working on a computer for any length of time, students commonly find themselves experiencing symptoms of computer vision syndrome (CVS) including blurred vision, eye strain, neckaches, headaches and red eyes, a result of your monitor’s bright backlight, glare and the inability of your eyes to remain accurately focused on your screen.” Luckily, it’s easy to fix most of these things. Firstly, tweak your monitor so that it stands 20-30 inches away from your eyes and so that it is consistently at eye level. Secondly, switch off any harsh fluorescent lights and ensure natural light is flooding in from either side of your computer, rather than from behind it. And, perhaps most importantly, consider getting your eyes checked in order to rule out vision problems, and then invest in some customized glasses with computer lenses, designed specifically to filter out blue light being emitted from your computer and protect your eyes.
Music. Television. Texting. Social media. These are perhaps the most dangerous temptations a student will face during allocated study time. Constant push notifications, alerts, text messages and incoming calls mean that unbroken focus on your studies is nearly impossible. Recent studies have shown that 38 percent of students are unable to last more than 10 minutes without checking their phone or social media account, and nearly three quarters of college students admit they are constantly engaging with some form of technology while studying. Another research study conducted by the University of Connecticut also (unfortunately) revealed that students who multitasked while studying had to study longer and had lower grades on average than peers who multitasked less often. This means that if you want to spend less time studying, you need to actually pay attention and study without checking your phone!
To eliminate the temptation of distractions altogether, it’s best to remove mobile phones, laptops and tablets from the room before studying, unless of course they are required for learning. If you need a laptop, it’s worth downloading an application designed to help students remain focused. SelfControl is one app that enables you to block access to any distracting websites, mail servers, or pop ups while studying. Or, try switching to the ‘focus view’ function within Microsoft Word, which enables you to view your documents in full screen and hide all other potentially distracting toolbars. Set yourself a goal to not check your phone until your study session is complete. Habits are tough to break, but if you follow these suggestions you will eventually find the temptation to be less and less.
How you sit while studying for prolonged periods of time can have a huge impact on your ability to concentrate as well as your longer-term health. The worst habits, which you’ll probably recognize, include sinking down in your seat (which strains the lower back), jutting out your chin (which can cause upper back pain), slouching to one side, and sitting on your wallet (which could potentially pinch the sciatic nerve and cause longer term damage to the spine).
The best posture you can adopt when you’re studying is one where your back is connected to the chair, your feet are flat on the floor, your keyboard is no more than an arm’s length away, and the monitor two to three inches above eye level. If you start a small, regular, exercise routine that focuses on core strength and stretching, you’ll improve your ability to sit up straight for prolonged periods – as well as keep you fit and healthy! Take intermittent breaks throughout study to stretch, and last, but certainly not least, avoid hunching over your keyboard. This will cause you to develop a rounded upper back and lead to spinal misalignment and stiffness in your shoulders, which will definitely prevent you from being able to study as long as you need to get the grades you want.
While most students believe that an all-nighter before an exam, fueled by caffeine and junk food, is the best approach to retaining information, studies show they could not be more wrong. Rather, an hour of study one day, a few the next, followed by another hour or two over the weekend in the lead-up to an exam is a far more effective means of improving later recall. Why is this? Simple. By cramming, you’re making a trade-off between sleep and study, but it turns out that sleep is actually a key contributor to academic achievement. UCLA professor of psychiatry Andrew J. Fuligni reports that sacrificing sleep for extra study time, whether it’s cramming for a test or working through a pile of homework, is in fact counterproductive, as you’re more likely to have more academic problems, not fewer, the following day.
In a study he jointly ran with a number of UCLA professors, it was found that study time became increasingly associated with more academic problems, because longer study hours generally meant fewer hours of sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, not getting sufficient sleep limits your ability to learn, listen, concentrate and solve problems. The solution? Get the prescribed 8 hours of sleep per night recommend for university aged students. Ensure you quit studying early enough each night to squeeze in 8 hours of pillow time, and no less. Plan your study calendar well in advance of an exam to ensure you have allocated sufficient hours to study, so as to avoid last minute cramming.
There are countless other negative study habits that, unfortunately, 21st century students have fallen prone to. Consistently using one single strategy to study is a negative study habit to avoid. So are excessive consumption of caffeine and junk food to fuel long cram sessions, and sticking to the same working environment rather than mixing it up occasionally. Learning how to ‘study smart’ is vital if you wish to achieve great things, not only on campus but beyond it – in the working world – where negative work habits will not only impact your health but also your greater career prospects.
Byline – Anton Lucanus is the Director of Neliti. During his college years, he maintained a perfect GPA, was published in a top cancer journal, and received many of his country’s most prestigious undergraduate scholarships. Anton writes for The College Puzzle as a means to share the lessons learnt throughout his degree and to guide current students to achieve personal and educational fulfilment during college life.