Your brain needs a study break too

I’ve got a confession. I have a two-part midterm starting Monday and I should be studying. Don’t get me wrong, I have been since last week Friday, but today I just can’t. I had made a plan to study two chapters today where I could study the last one tomorrow and finish with a review.

I just can’t.

My brain has officially shut off, it’s beginning to wander and it’s not letting any relevant information through. I think my brain took a snow day.

Yes Virginia, your brain needs a study break too. Cramming too much information in to that little noggin’ of yours, is a no-no. Forcing too much information in to your brain, without a break, will cause your brain to purge relevant information. In high school we learned that as you sleep, your brain purges irrelevant information the entire time you’re sleeping; this gives your brain the opportunity to keep everything relevant it learned that day and to continue holding past relevant information. When you’re a post-secondary student, your brain has to work twice as hard to sort through all that information.

And sometimes, it’s just too much.

Do you ever study so hard that your brain hurts? Mine gets like that, and it’s a real turnoff. I have to close the books, turn off the computer and not let any school stuff enter the brain. I have to move on to something different – watching TV helps, reading helps; I’ll work on crafts, sort my digital photos, go shopping… something to redirect my brain.

I learned this the hard way. One school year I took an intro psychology class; introductory classes have a lot of information to process, but psychology class is different. There are lots of terms to remember, ideologies, concepts. I had only one Christmas midterm this year and psychology was it; I studied non-stop, blocked myself from the outside world which included friends and family. I woke up that morning, went to school and as soon as I walked in to that examination room, my brain died. I couldn’t remember a single thing. NOT A SINGLE THING! I wasn’t nervous or anxious… my brain just died, it purged all that information because I crammed way too much in to it. Bummer.

Mental exhaustion is the number one complaint amongst my school friends. It’s also how you learn this information and how well you store it. Here’s some great tips when it comes to studying.

  1. Create a study schedule A study schedule will help you sort out which classes to study and which information to study for. My profs are really great; they give us a complete class of reviewing what we learned, go over any issues/questions we have and they also give us a study rubric. Color coding your schedule is a good tool as well. Here’s what mine looks like.
  2. Include study breaks When creating your study schedule, don’t forget to include study breaks! This will give your brain time to recuperate from “downloading” all the information you crammed in to it, also allowing yourself time to relax.
  3. Organize your notes Nothing is worse than when your notes are out of place, or even so, missing notes. Set aside a time when you can organize the notes; if you’re a visual person, retyping these notes on to the computer will also be a big help.
  4. Find a place to study Some study well at home, some study well at school, some study well at Starbucks. If you’re going to study at home, do not study in your bed. Your bed is your bed, and not a study area. You brain has been trained that your bed is your place of rest, studying on your bed will confuse your brain and will make you fall asleep. It’s happened to me on numerous occasions.
  5. Proper study tools I don’t know about you, but I must have background noise when studying. This can be the buzz of conversations in the university library, the music on my iPod, or even the television. Make sure you also have, as mentioned above, your notes, textbooks, study material that was provided to you by your instructor.
  6. Flash cards! These work for concepts or definitions I don’t know. Flash cards aren’t just for six-year-olds!
  7. Study buddies/study groups It’s worked for me in the past. While everyone has their own study style, everyone in your class is studying for the same thing. Talk to your instructor and ask if they can make a little announcement about a possibly study group. Those who are interested can contact each other to set up a time and place. Study buddies are also great for flash cards!
  8. Start early! Cramming the day before or day of can actually kill you. Not physically, but mentally. Remember, your brain has a lot to process and jamming it with information on short notice will make it purge that information you need! Your study schedule will help you with starting early! Most universities also will tell you the final exam schedule by mid-October; if it will be an in-class test, your instructors will include it in the class syllabus at the beginning of the term or half-way through.

What are your go-to studying tips? Do you start early, or are you a crammer? Do you take study breaks, or do you continue without stopping?

Now it’s time to get back to studying. My brain has had a long enough break. Wish me luck!

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