Most people manage their time by doing what they want
whenever they can, and what they
have to do when they must. Hour after
hour, day after day, and eventually
year after year, they find themselves responding to,
rather than controlling, their time demands.
Several studies have been done on student study
requirements. The average time middle or junior
high school students spend studying is six hours
per week. Senior high students spend a little
over seven hours per week. College students
spend eleven hours per week.
A week has 168 hours. So in middle school, for
example, slightly more than 3% of the week
is spent studying.
Approximately 30 hours a week are spent in
school, about 20%. Almost 10 hours are spent
either eating breakfast, getting ready, or being
transported to school, 6.5% of the week.
Add these up and you find that a middle school
student spends about 30% of the week doing
school activities. Because school is such a large
part of our lives, it makes sense to try to budget
the available time in order to maximize it.
Practical Academic Study Skills Page 23
Some Factors to Consider
Although everyone is different, there are some physical factors that research has shown can help or hinder our study. You all know from health science that after eating the stomach requires a large part of our available blood supply to process the food. Thinking can also require a large part of your blood supply. Because of this, studying should not follow eating.
Another constraint is sleep. Obviously, if we are sleepy it is difficult to concentrate. Studying requires a great deal of concentration. Interestingly, research has shown the best memory retention comes from studying just before you sleep. The last items looked at seem to stay in the consciousness longer and therefore are more readily remembered later.
Another factor is energy level. Most of you probably are aware that certain parts of the day seem to be your strongest mentally and physically. Some people say they are morning workers. Others like early afternoon. Still others are night people. Which are you? If you donít know, try to find out by examining how you feel during the day. On your daily calendar, write notes as to when you feel the most energetic. Keep this up at least six week, perhaps with notes about how well and how long you slept.
Another factor may be exercise. Most people do better at mental tasks when they exercise regularly. Some even do better right after exercising even though their energy level has been lowered. Part of the reason may be relaxation. After exercising, it is often easier to relax. When you are relaxed, you concentrate better. There are many techniques that will help you to relax when studying. (See the section on test anxiety)
One of the first things that will help you relax is having a comfortable study place.
Your Study Place
Where do you study? What distractions do you have around you? A study place should be chosen with the knowledge that will make a difference in how well you study.
Page 24 Practical Academic Study Skills
Most of you study in your bedroom. Do you
turn off the TV, unplug the telephone, tell
others in the house to let you concentrate?
It is important to select a comfortable place to
study. Your study place should remind you that
what you are doing is studying. Once selected
you should stock it with study materials: a
dictionary, note paper, pens and pencils.
Some people like to study at a desk, others
on their bed, and still others on the floor.
It depends on you.
For some people, music is a study aid. Unlike
music, television is a proven distraction. The
telephone is an unplanned interruption and
therefore a distraction. Family or friends interrupting
would also be a distraction. Your study area
and your study time need to be planned to allow
you to concentrate. In order to develop good study
habits, your studying should be at a regular time and place.
The Study Group
How many times have you wondered what the teacher
said or what the book meant by a particular comment
or paragraph? Do you ask others what their interpretation
is? While this may not be a common experience now,
it can be at the college level.
For all these reasons, it may be valuable to form a
study group. Here are several suggestions that you
can use to help form a study group.
If you can, study with someone who is just a little
better in the subject that yourself. If your study
partner is too good, you wonít be helped and your
partner might feel taken advantage of. If you are
of the same ability, you arenít improving the
quality of your study time.
Practical Academic Study Skills Page 25
If you are better in the subject, it will reaffirm your knowledge as you help the other person but probably will not help you with your study questions.
As studying by yourself, it is important to select a study place and time and then start doing it. Decide what it is you are to study and stick with your schedule. Make sure you anticipate test questions. Use study guides or packets if provided.
One of the common techniques is to divide up the study questions ahead of time. Each person should have a general understanding of all the questions and an in-depth understanding of the questions they were given or selected. Each person should thoroughly learn his/her selection before the study group gets together. Then, when the group gets together, each should present his/her answers in-depth. Some study groups have typed copies of the answers available for each member of the group.
Some people type their final notes. By typing them into a computer file, they are easily retrieved for studying and writing assignments.
How To Use Your Study Time
You have your time and place chosen. Now what? First, remind yourself that you truly do want to study. Start removing distractions, both physical and mental. Put aside thoughts about anything else. Then start with routine tasks first. It is similar to a stretching or warm up routine in a physical task. You should build your concentration and also accomplish the easier homework.
Next, examine you schedule and choose harder assignments. Often students like what they consider easy subjects. But this isnít always a reflection of how hard the subject is. It may be more because of a great or poor
Page 26 Practical Academic Study Skills
teacher, or even which classes you have friends in. Once
you have identified your harder subjects, they should
be broken up into parts that can be accomplished in the amount of time that
you know you can concentrate.
How long can you read hard material before losing concentration? This amount
of time is something each of us needs to learn about ourselves. It will vary as you become a better student and as the pressures of your daily life change. Schedule
large tasks, whether difficult or not, in a similar
Perhaps there are not a lot of time conflicts
in your studies now. However, there will be soon.
By practicing time management now, they will
not overwhelm you later.
In some cases, you may need to seek outside
help. Whether this is from a parent, friend,
tutor, or even a different text, you have to
learn the material that is covered by the course
description or risk being behind next year. Every
core subject you now take is a building block for
later subjects. You need to approach them all as important.
Breaks During Study Time
What if you canít concentrate? The it is probably
time to take a break. If you have developed a
schedule that works, it will include timed breaks.
During the first couple of weeks working with your
time management plan, you will need to determine
how long you can concentrate.
The best way to do this is to keep a journal of your study
time. Track the subject, the assignment, and the level of
difficulty. Write down your starting time and the time
your concentration begins to drift. For large tasks, write
down how long your break was, especially if you were
unable to restart the task in the scheduled study period.
Practical Academic Study Skills Page 27
Sooner or later, you will probably experience a task that is either too hard or boring. Both of these problems need to be overcome. Tasks that seem boring may make ideal warm ups for your hard tasks. But what if the thought "I canít do this" wonít o away you tackle a hard task?
What is actually happening is a break in concentration. Perhaps the task needs to be broken into smaller parts. Perhaps there is some information you hare missing. In either case, set aside the assignment and take a break. Either do some other assignment, or get up and walk around, or perhaps talk to someone else.
When you return, try to think of a different approach to the assignment. If it is a reading assignment, start at a different place from where your concentration drifted. If it is a packet you are working on, go to a different part of start there. If you are writing something, go to a different part of your outline and write those paragraphs. Then cut and paste those paragraphs together according to your outline.
Everyone likes to be rewarded a job well done. What about when you are the only one who knows or appreciates that the task you scheduled is done? Well, that means you have to reward yourself!
This works in two ways to help us with our studying. First, by rewarding ourselves we feel better. Second, it gives us incentive to get the job done so we can have the reward.
Page 28 Practical Academic Study Skills
It is important to set aside rewards until the task is done.
When doing difficult assignments, break the work up
into a series or tasks which can each be rewarded. What
kind of rewards? How about simple things like a phone
call to a friend or ice cream? Or bigger things such as a
movie or a new outfit? It may be necessary to involve
parents or others for the largest rewards, but you should
schedule your own rewards as well.
An example of a time management calendar is included
in this manual. Each of you will have a different method
and will vary the actual times to your own strengths
One of the first rules of a good time management calendar
is to have it with you. Perhaps the easiest way to do this is
to keep it in your three-ring binder.
Schedule everything on one calendar: birthdays, holidays,
important assignments, etc. If you have something personal
that you want to schedule, use the same calendar with a
code for the event or task so only you will know what it is.
For example: you could use "mt" to represent a mall trip
or "sd" to mean a special date.
It is important to create a calendar that reflects all of your
time constraints. As your scheduling ability increases, you
should notice a freeing up of time and a lack of last
minute rushing or pressure.
Practical Academic Study Skills Page 29
Here is a recommended Time Management video from Dartmouth.