One of the few things that I know for sure at age 16 is that in my lifetime, I will do a lot of studying. At the moment, as I attempt to balance a mix of AP and honors courses on top of extracurricular activities, college tours and advising, and my personal life, I'm learning the hard way that there's a right way and a wrong way, to study. Here are a few tips I've accumulated over the years via parental advice, the Internet, and my own painful experience.
1. Set A Schedule For Yourself.
Setting a schedule for yourself at the beginning of the week as to when, where, and how long you're going to study every day can be extremely productive. Are you a morning person? Plan to get up an hour earlier. Are you a night owl? Schedule your studying for later in the evening. Making a schedule enables you to go into a study session mentally prepared, and if you're mentally prepared to study, you're, by definition, going to have a more productive study session.
2. Plan Your Study Session.
Before you study, make sure to sit down and plan out your study session. Don't just plan out which subjects to study—go a little deeper and plan out what you need to do specifically for each subject. By setting a schedule for yourself, you'll ensure that a) you finish everything you need to and b) you won't waste time trying to remember what else you have to do. It may take a little more work on the front end to plan out your session, but trust me, it's worth it, especially if you're the kind of person like that sits down to study and doesn't even know where to begin. Having a schedule is a great way to reduce last-minute panic and make sure you get everything done, on time, as stress-free as possible.
3. Tackle Your Hardest Subjects First.
I'm guilty of it—doing my homework in order of easiest to hardest—but it's actually much more productive to start with your hardest subjects and end with your easiest. By the end of a study session, you're going to be tired, you're going to be sick of studying, and you're going to just want to get it done. If it's near the end of a study session, and you still have three pages left of worksheets for math, chances are that you're not going to give that calculus homework your best effort; you're going to be tired, frustrated, and ready to call it quits. By tackling your hardest subjects first, you can hopefully leave your study session a little less flustered and a little less emotionally drained than if you leave that material for last.
4. Get Out Of The House.
Maybe it's just me, but when I'm sitting in my bed at home, surrounded by pillows and soft blankets, I just cannot focus on schoolwork. I'll get maybe a productive 15 minutes for every 45 (and that's on a good day). It's very easy to lose focus when you're home and by yourself, with the entire Internet at your fingertips to distract you (thanks a lot, Netflix). Coffee shops, parks, libraries, or other public spaces can be beneficial places to study since they take you out of your all-too-comfortable surroundings. Also, by default, there's white noise at places such as coffee shops and parks, which can further help to hunker down and focus on your schoolwork.
5. Exercise Beforehand.
Exercising is so beneficial for your body, your emotions, your sleep pattern, and your mental awareness. Doing some light exercise before studying, such as going for a run or jog, is a great way to clear your head from the day's ups and downs so that you can focus in on your studying. Attempting to sit down for a study session after an entire day's worth of mental stimulation at school is brutal; going for a run and giving your brain a short break is refreshing and will help to put you in the best possible mindset for studying.
6. Eat Light, Healthy Snacks.
Eating junk food, while satisfying during a study session (my personal favorite is Smartfood White Cheddar Popcorn), can oftentimes leave you feeling tired, heavy, or mentally foggy. Eating healthy snacks, preferably cold foods such as an apple, will give your brain a boost, something we all need after a long exhausting day of school. The key word here is "snacks"; if you go home and eat a dinner of mashed potatoes, pork chops, and steamed broccoli, you're probably going to want to do nothing more than sleep. But a snack consisting of some lightweight, healthy foods, preferably cold, can help to snap you awake and give you energy to fight your way through that mountain of schoolwork you've been assigned.
7. Take Breaks.
This doesn't mean, "Oh, I've been working for ten minutes, I think I need to watch a few episodes of Orange is the New Black now"—this means, "I've had a solid hour's worth of studying, I'm going to take a ten-minute walk outside and then come back." Or, "I'm getting really frustrated with this calculus homework, I'm going to go downstairs, grab a snack and then come back to it." Trying to brute-force your way through a three-hour study session is pure hell; you're going to need to take a few breaks so that you don't have a complete mental breakdown.
8. Don't Be Afraid To Stop.
In the end, remember that this is only one night's worth of homework; this is only one test. If you are genuinely exhausted, miserable, or just studying without learning anything, chances are you should probably put it aside and call it a night. You're not going to get anything done by forcing yourself to keep going except to be exhausted the next morning. It's important to be successful in school, but it's also important that you are happy and healthy (something that doesn't always coincide so well with school). I know it's cliché, but grades are just numbers; they don't define who you are as a person. Sometimes, the best thing to do is accept the C- or the zero homework grade; your health and happiness should always rank higher than a few bad test scores.