How many hours of study should you do after school?

Posted on Posted in Study Techniques, Study time

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How many hours of study should I do each day?

This is the number one question I get asked by students.

Students want to know the exact numbers (e.g. 1, 2 or 3 hours).

Well, I’ve thought long and hard about this question and I’ve come to the following conclusion:

Don’t worry about the time. Focus on the quality of your study (not the quantity of study).

Sure, I know one school advises students to engage in 20 minutes of study per subject every day. Another school recommends 3 hours a night, plus 8 hours over the weekend …

So I could easily just tell you, Study for 3 hours every day! but it doesn’t sit right with me. Here’s why …

When I was in high school, I’d re-read my books and highlight my notes for 3 hours after school. I’d tick the 3 hour study box. Boom! Done! Finally, I can relax!, I’d think.

But after completing 3 hours of study, how much had I actually learnt? How much did I understand? Not a lot.

I didn’t realise at the time but my study strategies were totally ineffective.

So even though I could tick the 3 hour study box, I hadn’t managed to achieve much in that time.

Often we trick ourselves into thinking we’re studying, when in actual fact we’re:

A) not studying effectively;
B) just faffing around; or
C) a combination of A and B.

When you study ineffectively and/or faff around for 3 hours, you’re wasting time you’ll never get back.

3 hours of study can hurt your brain

Let’s not overlook the fact that thinking you have to do a huge chunk of study can totally throw you off course. It can lead to procrastination and study paralysis.

The thought of three hours of study is simply too overwhelming for a fatigued brain. Think about it, you’ve already been at school for seven hours. Your frazzled brain is thinking:

You want me to do another 3 hours on top of that? You’re dreaming!

With a fixed 3 hour study rule, you run the risk of falling into the trap of all or nothing thinking.

Let me give you an example of this …

Last year I was setting up for a school presentation when I overheard a student say:

I’ll either do the 3 hours of study and if I think I can’t then I think ‘Why even bother?’ So I just sit there and look at the wall.

I wanted to say to this student:

NooOoo! Please don’t stare at the wall. Do something. Even just 20 minutes!

Sometimes we can forget that doing something is always better than doing nothing.

Create your own study guidelines

This is why I recommend you create your own set of study guidelines. Guidelines that motivate you to study (and not have you staring at the wall).

Yes, you still need to study those painful subjects. The reality is studying is the only way you’ll effectively move information from your working memory to your long-term memory.

But the focus needs to shift from quantity of study to quality of study.

Taking the quality study approach

Not sure what quality study looks like?

Here are some examples:

  • You turn your phone off and spend 15 minutes doing a practice test.
  • You hand your phone to your parents and spend 10 minutes testing yourself with some flash cards.
  • You spend 5 minutes explaining an important concept to your mum, dad or bedroom wall without looking at your books and notes.
  • You open up a textbook and spend 25 minutes mind mapping out the topic.
  • With the quality study approach, it can help to ask the following questions:

  • What effective study strategies will I use today?
  • What distractions do I need to deal with to help me focus?
  • What areas am I confused by? What didn’t I understand in class today? (Note: you want to focus on these areas when you study).
  • The great thing about taking the quality study approach is that you learn and understand more in less time.

    To sum up

    If you choose to engage in quality study (i.e. you use effective study strategies and eliminate distractions from the outset), you’ll save time, feel less stressed and more in control of your studies.

    So if you find yourself thinking Why should I even bother if I can’t do 3 hours of study?, remind yourself that doing some quality study (even just 25 minutes) is better than 3 hours of faffing around. All those small chunks of quality study add up to something really solid.

    Take a moment to think of one small action you’ll take today to improve the quality of your study sessions. Feel free to post what you plan to do below!

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