Brain Power: 10 Tips for Creating Good Study Habits

Female college student studying.

Juggling schedules, social lives and school can feel challenging for new college students. When it comes to schoolwork and studying, some students find that acing their exams is not as straightforward as it was in high school and may require a bit more preparation. Here are 10 tried and true tips that can help students create good studying habits, and be well on their way to a great GPA in college.

1. Eliminate Distractions

Here are some great ways to avoid the temptation to do too many things at once:

  • Turn your phone on “do not disturb” 
  • Place distracting technology in a desk drawer or backpack
  • Study without using your computer if you don’t need it 

A study on distractions in the workplace found that it takes workers about 25 minutes to return to what they were doing after being interrupted. We think it’s safe to assume this translates to studying in college.

2. Engage With the Material

Simply doing the class readings or reviewing notes from a lecture just isn’t enough to truly retain important material—even if you use a highlighter while reading. Active studying, or engaging with material in a more involved way, can help you commit information to your long-term memory more quickly. Examples of active studying include: 

  • Create a study guide by writing out the main points of the lesson and then explaining the material using your own words
  • Put together your own quiz questions and practice answering them
  • Say the information out loud as if you were teaching it to someone else
  • Create visual diagrams or concept maps that help you explain and visualize the material

3. Space Out Your Studying

Shorter, more frequent study sessions are often more efficient (and effective) than long stretches which can lead to a lack of concentration and retention. Try to schedule short moments in your daily and weekly routine to study class material and commit it to memory while it’s still fresh in your mind. Even making flashcards and reviewing them periodically throughout the day can help you get a handle on the information faster. These techniques can also help you avoid procrastination. There’s no need to dread a three-hour cramming session if you’ve already completed many small study sessions throughout the week. 

4. Eat Smart Snacks

Research consistently finds that eating a nutritious, balanced diet improves concentration, attention span and mental recall. This includes snacks. In fact, the right snack choices help boost and maintain energy levels by stabilizing blood glucose (which helps you avoid low energy, restlessness, and drowsiness). 

So while it might be tempting to grab a coffee, energy drink or sugary snack for a quick energy boost, the subsequent sugar crash can be even more detrimental to a productive study session. Reach for nutritious and energy-packed study snacks that contain one serving of a high-quality carbohydrate (like fruit, vegetables, legumes and whole grains), coupled with a source of lean protein (like cheese, eggs, nuts, seeds, poultry and fish). Some smart snack ideas include:

  • Whole grain crackers and hummus
  • Nut butter spread on apples, bananas or celery
  • Whole grain cereal or granola mixed with fruit and nonfat Greek yogurt
  • Lunchmeat and cheese rolled in a whole grain tortilla

And don’t forget to hydrate. Poor hydration can impact the brain’s ability to efficiently transmit and receive information, leading to increased fatigue, sleep issues and headaches. Keep a water bottle on hand and sip as you study. 

5. Find the Light

While you might not have ever considered lighting to be an important part of your study environment, research shows dimly lit rooms can reduce the effectiveness of the brain’s power to gather data. 

The best kind of lighting for successful studying? Full-spectrum light, such as natural lighting, can elevate the body’s levels of the chemicals that affect emotional well-being. On the flip-side, cool-white fluorescent lighting has been linked to attention deficit and agitation. So grab a table near the window in the library, rearrange your dorm room to get maximum natural light at your desk, or take your study session outside on a nice day.

6. Try Out Different Environments

There’s no hard and fast rule that says studying needs to happen in a quiet section of the campus library. In fact, for some people a completely silent environment might be just as distracting as a noisy café.

Try a few different places and see what works best for you. Consider your room or apartment, a common space in your dorm, a coffee shop, the library, a park, or even the dining hall. Studies show that switching up your location while studying can actually increase your recall of information.

You can also experiment with listening to music (or not!). Instrumental or classical music can help some people focus while studying, while others may find it distracting. Discover what works for you and your study style. 

7. Exercise Before Studying

Studies show that your brainpower increases following a workout, since your body is working hard to pump oxygen to the brain. Even a quick workout before studying can help you feel alert and better able to learn and retain information.

8. Get Enough Sleep

A recent study shows a strong relationship between students’ grades and the amount of sleep they consistently get—not just the night before a big test. Try to stick to a regular routine that allows 7-9 hours of quality sleep to keep your brain firing on all cylinders. The same study found that course grades for students averaging 6.5 hours of sleep were down 50% from other students who averaged 7.5 hours of sleep

9. Study with Friends

Try to meet a few people in each of your classes that you feel comfortable connecting with outside of the classroom. Study groups of 4 to 6 people can be a very beneficial way to learn, as students can share unique insights and learn from each other. Study groups can also be a source of motivation and support—a huge benefit during a time of life that can feel stressful.

10. Bounce Back from a Bad Grade

Bad grades happen—even to excellent students and studiers. Don’t let one bad grade get in the way of a good GPA. If you, or someone you know, receives a less-than stellar grade, try to be proactive. Chat with your professor about the material during office hours and ask whether they offer practice exams. Get a tutor if you are having trouble understanding certain lessons. You might just learn some additional study tips from your professor or tutor, too!

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Christine M. Stabler, MD, MBA

Christine Stabler, MD, MBA, FAAFP is Medical Director of Women’s Health for Lancaster General Health, a family medicine physician with LG Health Physicians Women's Internal Medicine, and Vice President of Academic Affairs. She is a graduate of Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University. She completed her residency at Lancaster General Hospital and a fellowship at Temple University Hospital.

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About LG Health Hub

The LG Health Hub features breaking medical news and straightforward advice to help individuals of all ages make healthy choices and reach their wellness goals. The blog puts articles by trusted Lancaster General Health clinical experts, good 'n healthy recipes, videos, patient stories, and health risk assessments at your fingertips.


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