Developing effective study habits

In my third year of university, I took a first-year psychology course. I was pleasantly surprised to see effective studying techniques as one of the first topics we learned about. I soon realized that I have gone years through different levels of academia without ever learning how to study well, as have many other people. Some of the techniques were obvious to me while others helped me make many positive changes to my study habits, and with them- my academic performance.

Here I will share some habits that will help develop effective studying based on different psychology principles. 

To begin, we should accept the fact that we will need to put in the work to achieve good results. Very rarely can one wing it and with luck get decent grades in college or university. We might have some friends who brag about not ever studying but rest assured, if they get good grades- they do study. Some individuals just want to appear bright rather than studious, so they alter people’s perceptions of them. The trick is to be smart about how we approach studying and it will save us hours of unnecessary grind.

Next, we need to understand that a lot of people don’t like studying. There’s nothing shameful in not burning with the desire to study. In fact, the sooner we realize that studying doesn’t come as second nature to us, the sooner we can accept the need for an organized plan to achieve our academic goals. This extends to other areas in our lives as well. 

Siebert suggested such a plan should include the following three steps to improve the overall outcome of the studying process:

1. Set up a schedule for studying and write it down.

Photo by Cathryn Lavery on Unsplash

If we wait until the motivation to study comes to us, we might be waiting until we must pull all-nighters right before the deadlines. That is why it is important to schedule time for studying ahead of time. Look over all your responsibilities and commitments and allocate reasonable time for studying, chores, and work, if you have a job. Rule of thumb that I use: estimate how long something will take you, then double it- that is the actual time it will take you. Don’t forget to account for being wide awake and alert during those times, otherwise, you’ll be clocking in hours but not progress. Most importantly, be realistic with how many hours you can study at once before fatigue catches up with you. Scheduling in time for breaks will help to refocus and bring back dying concentration (be careful not to make them too long).

You can use this free template found below to plan your studying. It’s fully editable, so you can change the timing to better suit your needs.

By Alona Gordeeva

According to the study conducted by Zechmeister & Nyberg, 1982, all-nighters and cramming have shown to be ineffective forms of studying for most people and can trigger test anxiety, wear down our brain’s memorization capabilities, and bring in mental fatigue. Many students dread doing certain work or studying so it is helpful to write down our study schedule to make studying harder to avoid and increase our commitment. This simple addition to the way we schedule would help avoid those all-nighters before the deadline.

A lot of people also tend to take care of small tasks first and delaying major tasks such as final papers or projects. Many rationalize it by thinking they’d have more time to take care of those major tasks later. This leads to a lot of people delaying major tasks until it’s too late to do anything well. One of the ways to manage our time better is to break major assignments into smaller, more manageable tasks. If a major assignment is a group project, it could be a good idea to break down the project into small individual components, so everyone can work on it at their own pace.

2. Find the right place to study.

Photo by Nguyen Thu Hoai on Unsplash

The goal for finding “the right place” is to find a place where we can concentrate. It is very important because some places are just more suitable for studying than others. Different people like different atmospheres for focusing; however, many students get easily distracted by others’ conversations, TV, lyrics in songs, etc. I like putting on classical or Lo-Fi music when studying in cafes to get rid of random background conversations, others prefer complete quiet, see what works for you. We need to grow in our self-awareness for what helps us study, and this often takes experimentation- trying different locals and settings to learn what helps us. Beware of our inner saboteurs- they try to give ourselves an excuse for not being successful. We all have them, so it is important to know ourselves well to not give into holding our own selves back. Don’t create the need for exerting extra efforts to stay focused, plan to study at the right place and settings for you.

It may be beneficial to pick one or two places that would only be used for studying. This helps with creating an association between a place and studying, making it easier to slip into concentration however we arrive there.

One last thing to consider, it is not advisable to ever study in bed because our mind associates bed with sleeping. This would make studying ineffective and might even have negative effects on our sleep. If association gets flipped between bed and sleeping to bed and studying/lounging, we might have troubles falling or staying asleep.

3. Reward your studying.

Photo by Kobby Mendez on Unsplash

I can’t stress enough the importance of this point. Rewarding ourselves is crucial to our success. Rewards are usually what motivates us in a lot of scenarios. Many people find it hard to get motivated to study because the rewards are too far away. Finishing a degree might be years away, receiving a good grade might be weeks or months away- too far into the future. It is helpful to give ourselves immediate and tangible rewards after finishing the scheduled work each day. Rewards can be anything we enjoy: sweets, watching our favourite show, a hang out with a friend, etc.

Behaviour adjustment through purposeful manipulation of rewards is based on psychological concepts described by B.F. Skinner and other behavioural psychologists. This conditions our brain to view studying as an enjoyable process; if not for the process itself, then for a reward we receive after completing it. Thus, setting up realistic goals and rewarding ourselves when those are met helps set up our brain for success.

To sum up:

If we want to reach great heights, we should plan on how we want to do it. Most of the time, academic and professional continuous growth is not something that just happens to us but is something we need to consciously choose. Increasing self-awareness can help with making decisions that would lead to that growth while shutting down inner saboteurs that whisper ways to make our lives harder. Furthermore, setting reasonable goals and rewarding ourselves when they are achieved will add colour to our lives and will make hard work more enjoyable and desirable. 

When is the right time for you to study? Where should you study? How do you hold yourself back? What rewards will you give yourself to celebrate your little victories?

Here and in future posts, I share how to study based on different psychology principles. If you liked this post, you might like “how can morning routine help with productivity?”. Check it out!


Siebert, A. (1995). Student success: How to succeed in college and still have time for your friends. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

Weiten and McCann (2012). Psychology: Themes and Variations. Cengage Learning.

Zechmeister, E. B., & Nyberg, S. E. (1982). Human memory: An introduction to research and theory. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Hi, I’m Alona! I’m open, compassionate, and love adventures. Welcome to StudyTips, a place where I share knowledge from years of experience, studying, and hard work.

It is possible to do well in school and have fulfilling balanced lives. I learnt it the hard way but hope you won’t have to. Studying more is not always better, the trick is to know how to do it well.

Here you can find tips, concepts, and techniques based on various psychology principles that I wish I knew in my first years of university.


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