Studying Effectively

Deep work

Spending an hour in a library but getting nothing done. Sound familiar? Low productivity study sessions are your enemy in university. You need to practice ‘deep work’. It’s a term coined by Cal Newport in his 2016 best-selling book and it basically means distraction-free periods of intense focus.

To inculcate a habit of deep work, you need to do three things.

First, schedule a time and place for deep work in your daily timetable. For me, it was 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday at Bean Around the World cafe. You can change the frequency of these sessions as your course gets more demanding.

Second, eliminate all distractions. I left my phone back in my dorm when I left for the cafe. However, everyone faces a different distraction. So, find yours and eliminate it. It could even be your friends. Leave them in the residence (with a sweet note).

Finally, have a clear agenda for the deep work session. This would help you get into the study zone and not be intimidated with the many things on your to-do list.

Active recall

This is just a fancy word for testing yourself. Staring at plain text does you very little. Instead, after you are done going over a concept, do practice problems or take a sample quiz. This method is very effective because it forces your brain to actively engage in the material and retrieve it in a test setting.

One of the ways I did active recall was making a list of questions instead of notes for ECON 101. Whenever I had to revise a few chapters, I just quizzed myself on the questions. If I didn’t know an answer, I would look it up in the book. Another benefit of this method was that I was able to point out the concepts that I was having the most trouble remembering and focus more studying time on them.

The multiple deadline timetable

Being done with a paper well before the due date might be an uncommon thing in university but it’s not impossible. Here’s a little trick. Along with marking the deadline for your paper, also mark a few additional deadlines for yourself in your timetable. For example, divide a term paper into tasks and set up a deadline for them. Mark 15 days before the actual deadline as your personal deadline for completing an outline. Then 10 days before for a completed draft. Of course, you can tailor it to your specific assignment and your daily schedule. This system is extremely helpful to avoid procrastination and writing last-minute assignments.

Your first-year academic courses at UBC are going to be challenging but rewarding. So, set up good study practices in order to ace all your classes and also leave time to enjoy the multitude of opportunities outside class.