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Phoenix Forward magazine

Want to be a better studier? Check out these tips

Study skills

Did you know that the amount of water you drink can affect your concentration? Or that reading your coursework aloud can make a difference in how well you grasp the material?

Employing these and other surprising tips, along with some creativity, can help you accomplish more during your limited study time than you may have thought possible.

“Studying isn’t just about remembering facts, but cultivating a deeper understanding of the material you’re studying,” notes Ryan Kuck, who holds a Master of Arts in Education/Adult Education and Training from University of Phoenix and is a University program manager for academic affairs.

Here are seven ways to get the most out of your study time:


Eat well.

You can’t retain information if you study on an empty stomach or after loading up on junk food and caffeinated beverages, stresses Trudy Scott, BS, a certified nutritionist and author of "The Anti-Anxiety Food Solution.” Even if you don’t study until later in the day, Scott recommends eating breakfast and including protein.

“Think eggs and bacon or a whey protein smoothie with berries and coconut milk,” she says. “This will set you up for the rest of the day.” Scott notes that protein-rich diets can help improve mental focus, adding that blood-sugar spikes that accompany eating refined carbohydrates like white bread or candy bars can cause grumpiness, anxiety and fatigue.

She also emphasizes the importance of drinking plenty of water. “Dehydration has a direct effect on neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine — brain chemicals that control cognition,” Scott notes, citing a 2011 study that found that poor hydration can affect concentration and increase anxiety.

Use downtime wisely.

If you always feel pressed for study time, you might be surprised by how much you can accomplish in short spurts throughout the day.

“My wife likes to go to [college] basketball games, which I’m not crazy about,” Kuck says. “But I discovered that if I went along, I could get a lot of studying done if I just put in earplugs, zoned out and read for 30 minutes or so at the games.”

Other study opportunities include taking a few minutes to read when you’re waiting to pick up your kids from extracurricular activities, or listening to audiobooks while you’re driving, working out or doing chores.

Be creative in finding study space.

There are many ways to establish a personal study zone, either at home or in the community, Kuck points out. “When I was in college, I liked going to a quiet corner of the public library and using a study carrel with walls because it just shut out the world,” he says. “You can make one of your own at home using bookcases or even pieces of cardboard.”

He also suggests designating secluded rooms in your house as study sanctuaries — like the utility room, basement or even the bathroom.

Blend study time with child care.

Mixing family time and study time can help you accomplish more, says Amy Hollingsworth, PhD, an Akron, Ohio-based biology lab coordinator who completed her doctorate as a single parent while working full time.

She enrolled at the local YMCA and found a quiet corner of the Y’s member lounge to set up her laptop while her son played in the facility’s supervised children’s gym for an hour or two.

“I took my son there on nights I had huge assignments,” Hollingsworth says. “They had free Wi-Fi, and I didn’t feel bad about leaving my son in the day care because he got [to be] active.”

Parents of babies and very young kids can even read their assignments instead of children’s books to their kids, Kuck suggests. “At that age, kids are more interested in being close to you and hearing your voice than the actual content of the books,” he says.

Study out loud.

This method can help reinforce material you’re also reading silently, Hollingsworth and Kuck both agree.

“I used to read my articles out loud into the voice recorder of my phone, and then play them in the car on the way to work,” Hollingsworth explains.

On long drives, Kuck’s wife helps him prepare to teach new courses by reading aloud the textbooks he’ll be using in class. He then rereads them later. “The second study session is enhanced because I spend less time familiarizing myself with the topic and more time deepening my understanding,” he says.

Apply what you’re learning to daily life.

A good way to increase your understanding of new information is to use it in your everyday life, Kuck says. “I tell students in my classical music class at the University to think about meter whenever they hear a popular song on the radio, and try to figure out what meter the song is written in,” he says. “It makes the concept more real.”

If you’re a business student studying efficiency, for example, Kuck says, “you could look around your office and think about what procedures in your workplace could become more efficient. Even if you don’t act on your ideas, just thinking about how new concepts apply to your everyday life can lead to a deeper understanding of how they work and what they mean.”

Try out multiple strategies.

Expect some trial and error when searching for ways to improve your study skills, Kuck cautions. “What works for one person might not work for you,” he notes.

He encourages students to determine their learning styles by taking the University’s complimentary online assessments as a starting point. “This can give you an idea of what study tips will work for you, but [the learning styles] also need to pass the reality test.”

Hollingsworth notes that she used a variety of strategies to stay on track for her doctorate, including making up funny acronyms to help her remember long lists of scientific terms, highlighting her notes in different colors to prioritize what to study first and even relying on certain foods.

“I read a Washington Post article that said mints help you concentrate, so I kept peppermints in my office,” she says. “It might be [nonsense], but it worked for me.”