Do you know when to study?
People perform their best at certain types of tasks — from exercise to problem-solving — at particular times of day, otherwise known as peak performance. Is the same true for study habits? Experts think so, though they note it isn’t quite that simple.
“Everybody’s ‘best’ time of day to study is going to be different,” says Lisa Hendrickson, MA, area chair for the College of Humanities and Sciences at the University of Phoenix Madison Campus. She recommends that students be aware of when they feel most awake and alert, and try to study then. Kathryn Garcia, MSW, a general studies instructor at the University’s Sacramento Valley Campus, agrees.
“What I coach my students to do is to figure out when you feel your peak performance times are, provided there are no other obstacles to using those times for study, like caring for young children,” explains Garcia, a license clinical social worker. “You might feel most alert at 6 pm, but is studying in the middle of dinner time realistic?”
She recommends that students keep a daily diary. “Pay attention to how you’re feeling physically and cognitively at various times of day, and write down your observations,” she says. “After a week or so, go back and look for patterns,” like always being tired after meals or having a lot of energy in the morning.
“Treat it like a research project,” Garcia suggests. “You might also find that you need to sleep more or change your eating habits in order to have more energy for studying.”
Even after discovering their own peak performance times, students who have work and family obligations might not always be able to take advantage of those optimal times, Hendrickson notes. “Students have to take ownership of their time, and sometimes that’s a tall order,” she says, adding that making study time fit into your life may require keeping odd hours.
“I don’t think anybody chooses to be a 2 am person, but sometimes that is what works,” Hendrickson says.
Garcia concurs. “You can train yourself to push through low-energy periods and still be productive,” she says, using herself as an example. “Before I had kids, I was a morning person who never thought I’d have the energy to exercise after work, but when I became a parent, things changed.”
She encourages students to look for windows of idle time throughout their days to study. “You might be at home or at a cafe and discover, ‘Oh, I have a free hour,’” Garcia points out. “Train yourself to take advantage of that time instead of wasting it online or watching TV,” even if it isn’t your peak performance time.
“You have to be willing to try other things,” she adds, “in order to get your work done.”