Studying – you know you need to do it, but you just can’t seem to make it a habit. Maybe you forget, become distracted or just don’t want to do it.
Understanding what a habit is, and how it forms, can help you figure out how to study on a daily basis.
The habit loop
A habit is a behavior you do regularly or routinely. As a professor who studies how to help students become better readers and writers, I can tell you that research shows habits have a loop: cue, routine, reward.
Let’s say you have a habit of eating a snack after school. When school is about to end, you start to feel hungry. Dismissal is the cue to get your snack.
Eating the snack is the routine. The reward is that it tastes good and your hunger goes away, which reinforces the habit – and makes you want to repeat the loop again the next day.
Here are the things you need to make a studying loop:
A set time to study every day.
A cue to start studying.
An environment that helps you stick to your studying routine.
A reward for studying.
Setting a time
When you do things at the same time every day, it is easier to remember to do them.
To determine how much time you should set aside each day to study, multiply your grade level by 10 minutes.
That means if you’re in third grade, you would plan to spend about 30 minutes per day studying. This can include the time you spend practicing your reading. If you’re in eighth grade, you would spend 80 minutes per day – that is, one hour and 20 minutes – studying.
Research suggests that two hours is the maximum amount of daily studying time that is beneficial. Spending more time than that on a regular basis can cause stress, anxiety and possibly disturb healthy sleep habits.
So choose a single block of time during the afternoon or evening when you will have the right amount of time to study every day.
There may be days when your assignments do not fill the full block of time that you have set. On those days, you should spend time reviewing material that you’ve already studied; regularly going back over information helps you remember it and think about how to integrate it with the new things you’re learning.
You also can spend those extra minutes reading a book. Studies show a daily habit of reading for 20 minutes will improve your vocabulary, language skills and overall knowledge.
A researcher who studies ways to help students become better readers and writers describes how to create a homework habit using a loop: cue, routine, reward.
Studying at the same time every day is one cue, but you may need something more concrete when first forming your habit.
This can be a calendar reminder you set on your phone or laptop, or something as simple as a card with the word “study” printed on the front. You can leave the card where you hang up your coat or put down your bag when you get home from school – or on your television or computer screen.
On the back of the card, write the word “studying.” Then keep this side facing up and posted to the back of your computer, on your door, or above your desk while you work.
This will signal to others that they should not disturb you during this time. When you finish studying, return the card to its starting spot so that it’s ready to remind you to study the next day.
Your study environment
To help yourself study, you need a place set up for work and not for doing other things. Do not study on your bed – that’s for sleeping – or in front of the television, or anywhere it’s difficult to hold and use the materials you need. Best option: a table or desk with good lighting.
Your study place should limit distractions. That includes other people’s conversations and all media: TV, video games, social media, texts or music. Research repeatedly has shown the human brain cannot multitask well; people make more mistakes if they try to do two things at the same time, especially when one of those things requires concentration. Bouncing back and forth between two things also means it takes longer to complete the task.
Although you should put away electronic devices when studying, that may not be an option if you need them for homework. If that’s the case, set the “do not disturb” notification on your phone, silence incoming notifications and close all social media and gaming apps.
Gaming, social media and video apps are programmed to make you want to keep checking or playing them. That means you have to replace the bad habit of constantly using them with the good habit of studying for a designated block of time.
That said, after you finish studying, you can give yourself a little gaming or social media time as your reward.
With time, the studying itself will become its own reward. Improving your knowledge and skills will give you a sense of achievement and make you more confident and happier at school. But while forming your study habit, a really fun reward will help you stick with it.
This is especially true if the subject you’re studying is difficult for you. No one likes to do something they think they’re not very good at. However, it’s impossible to get better if you do not practice, and studying is just like practicing a sport, instrument or hobby.
How long it takes
The amount of time it takes to make studying a daily habit can be anywhere from 21 days to a few months, depending upon the person.
To help you stay with it, find a study buddy to form the habit along with you. Ask your family not to interrupt you during study time. And consider using apps to set goals and track your study time so you can watch your habit form and celebrate your progress. The good news: Daily studying gets easier the more you do it.