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10 Ways for Students to Crush It Next Semester

10 Ways for Students to Crush It Next Semester

A fresh, new semester is right around the corner. And that means a chance for us students to start with a clean slate, forget whatever happened with that Chemistry lab last semester, and upgrade our study habits so that we can really crush it this time around.

Here are 10 ways to get you started.

1. Develop “true grit” when it comes to studying

150909-flickr-AlanLevine-Grit

    As it turns out, the highly-esteemed, much debated “IQ” is actually a pretty poor predictor of academic performance.

    This is good news for us, because there’s a different characteristic – one the we are in control of – that researcher Angela Duckworth has identified, called “grit,” which correlates much more highly with success.

    Duckworth defines grit as, “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” It sounds simple, but it’s surprisingly effective. Your stick-to-it-iveness will not only up your chances for sticking with math homework, but can actually predict, with a high degree of accuracy, things like which incoming cadets will make it through West Point’s grueling training program.

    Action Step: See how you stack up on the grit scale, and then work to “up” your grittiness.

    2. Build “tiny” study habits

    How many times have you said to yourself, “This is the year I get it shape,” only to promptly quit on your new gym habit a few weeks into the new year? For a lot of us, establishing new habits is tough, especially for things we know we “should” do, but don’t necessarily want to (like studying).

    Well according to behavior scientist BJ Fogg, director of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University, it might be that we just have the wrong approach. Taking on big behavior change usually fails, but only because we try to take on activities that are too difficult at the beginning. Instead, Fogg’s “tiny” habit method focuses on establishing the habit first, and then increasing its duration and difficulty.

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    Each habit is composed of cue, routine, reward. The more you reinforce this cycle, the more likely it is that you’ll keep with it over time, ingraining that new activity into your psychology. So to accomplish this task, we want to do something so small that it will be trivially easy to repeat this habit cycle each day. This “tiny” habit could be as simple as doing 1 pushup each day (if you’re trying to start an exercise habit), or flossing just 1 tooth each night (if you’re trying to become a flosser, per your dentist’s recommendation).

    Then, once it becomes a behavior you can reliably repeat (after a few weeks), you can start to increase the difficulty and/or duration until you reach your ultimate goal. And we can apply this same method towards studying.

    Action Step: Try adding a 5-minute study session to your morning routine. Anybody can study for 5 minutes a day, so start there. After you’ve been able to do this for a few weeks, increase to 10, then 20…

    3. “Gamify” Learning with a Habit RPG

    150909-flickr-MarcoArment-VideoGames

      Think of how easy it is to sit yourself down to play a video game. (Hell yea, Call of Duty here we come!)

      That’s because the designers have “gamified” the process to make it more enjoyable. Gamification is a “process of making systems, services and activities more enjoyable and motivating”.

      Well, it turns out that you can “gamify” learning and study habits in the same way, and that’s exactly what the people over at Habit RPG have done. Make progress on your new habit each day, and earn experience points, so that you can “level up” and progress through the game. And this works GREAT for getting yourself to study more.

      Action Step: Join Habit RPG, set a learning goal, and get started.

      4. “Bind” Yourself to Studying Using Beeminder

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      150909-flickr-rychlepozicky-OneDollar

        As much as we like to rely on motivation to get us through difficult work, you don’t need to wait to get motivated to sit down and start cranking through homework problems. And once way to make this easy for yourself is to create reliable motivation with negative bets. What does that mean? I’m talking about putting stakes on the line (e.g. cash) to keep yourself on track.

        One way you can do this is by using a site like Beeminder to create a daily goal for yourself (e.g. study for an hour), with a penalty if you don’t keep up (e.g. you pay Beeminder $10 if you miss your goal 2 days in a row). This decreases the temptation to procrastinate, and gives you that extra “push” to get up off the couch and sit down to start on those practice problems.

        Action Step: Set up a daily study goal (e.g. 30 minutes) on Beeminder.

        5. Use the “Goldilocks” Principle to unlock your brain

        In his book Why Students Don’t Like School, professor Daniel Willingham explains his guiding principle for learning:

        “People are naturally curious, but we are not naturally good thinkers; unless the cognitive conditions are right, we will avoid thinking.”

        This is the basis of what I call the Goldilocks Principle: Solving problems brings pleasure if they are hard enough that the answer isn’t totally certain, but no so hard that we can barely get started. Not too hard, not too easy, just right.

        Action Step: If you find yourself getting bored with your work, make it more interesting by asking yourself questions that you don’t yet know the answer to. If you find yourself overwhelmed or unable to get started, think about how you can break down the problem into small 30-minute chunks.

        6. Do practice problems before you’re ready

        We all know, as students, how horrific tests can be. I still have nightmares about walking into class and completely blanking on physics finals. But it turns out that giving ourselves tests is one of the most effective ways to ensure that we’ll retain what we’re learning about.

        Self-testing, according to the research, can significantly improve the amount of material about a subject you retain later on (like, when a mid-term rolls around), and this effect is strongest when you DON’T review the material beforehand (i.e. you have to rely on your long-term memory to retrieve facts and procedures). It turns out all of those homework assignments you did as a kid could have paid off.

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        Action Step: Next time you get home from class, instead of jumping right into the books, try testing yourself on the material you just learned. Do this without studying first, and even if you don’t get the answers right, you’re subsequent study sessions will be more effective, and you’ll remember more later on.

        7. Be lazy and sleep in

        150909-flickr-BurnoCaimi-Sleeping

          If you haven’t noticed, sleep is a bit of a taboo subject in our culture. Getting by on 4-6 hours of sleep is like a badge of honor, especially when it comes to work and school. Unfortunately, it’s quite possibly the dumbest thing you could do as a student.

          According to the research (but honestly, do we really need research on this to tell you how crappy you feel after a short night of sleep?) chronic sleep deprivation “impairs attention and working memory, but it also affects other functions, such as long-term memory and decision-making. These are all things absolutely essential to learning. Besides, sleep itself is part of the learning process, consolidating new learning into long term memory as you progress through the different sleep cycles.

          So unless you’re a fan of throwing away all of the hard work you put into learning each day, 7-9 hours of high-quality sleep each night should be in your future.

          Action Step: Set a bedtime alarm. Childish? Yes. But if you back-calculate 8-9 hours from the time you need to wake up, and set yourself a reminder to go to bed, you can help ensure that you’re getting in the hours you need for optimum learning the next day when your morning alarm goes off.

          8. Become a Pomodoro master

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            If procrastination is your thing, maybe all you need in your life is a simple timer. Becoming a master of the Pomodoro Technique, and getting in the habit of putting in short bursts of work followed by short breaks, can help you break through that wall, and actually start studying.

            Action Step: Try doing one Pomodoro right now.

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            9. Let tough problems “percolate”

            Sometimes you’re sitting there, banging your head against the wall, trying to wrap your mind around what is going on with this Calculus problem… But no matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to crack it.

            It turns out part of the problem may be that you’re focusing too hard, and by doing so, not allowing your brain to access other thought patterns that may hold the answer to your problem. According to Benedict Carey, author of How We Learn, maybe what you need is to quit on your problem, and come back to it later, taking advantage of a phenomenon called “percolation.”

            By quitting mid-problem, you give your subconscious mind a chance to dig around in the background and find a new way to look at that problem you’ve been focusing so hard on. Then when you come back to it, you’ve got a new perspective, and possibly an answer to that problem you previously considered impossible.

            Action Step: The next time you find yourself frustrated with a difficult problem, and your progress has stalled, quit on it. Give it an hour or two. Then come back. You might be surprised how easy it seems once you come back to it.

            10. Space it out and mix it up

            150909-flickr-AlbaEstevez-exam

              How many of you have spent hours studying right before a test, taken the exam, and then promptly forgotten everything you just took that test on? It turns out spacing out our study sessions holds huge benefits beyond simply reducing stress and staying organized.

              By putting in shorter, spaced-out study sessions, rather than huge marathon cram sessions, what you do learn will be more robust (you’ll be able to remember more, more often), and you’ll also retain the information longer.

              Action Step: Engineer short study sessions into your schedule each week, even if it’s just 30 minutes in-between classes.

              Featured photo credit: Francisco Osorio via flickr.com

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              Last Updated on March 21, 2019

              11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

              11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

              Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

              You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

              But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

              To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

              It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

              “What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

              The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

              In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

              Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

              1. Start Small

              The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

              Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

              Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

              Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

              Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

              Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

              It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

              Do less today to do more in a year.

              2. Stay Small

              There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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              But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

              If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

              When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

              I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

              Why?

              Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

              The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

              Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

              3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

              No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

              There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

              What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

              Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

              This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

              This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

              4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

              When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

              There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

              Peter Drucker said,

              “What you track is what you do.”

              So track it to do it — it really helps.

              But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

              5. Measure Once, Do Twice

              Peter Drucker also said,

              “What you measure is what you improve.”

              So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

              For reading, it’s 20 pages.
              For writing, it’s 500 words.
              For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
              For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

              Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

              6. All Days Make a Difference

              Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

              Will two? They won’t.

              Will three? They won’t.

              Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

              What happened? Which one made you fit?

              The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

              No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

              7. They Are Never Fully Automated

              Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

              But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

              What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

              It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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              The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

              It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

              It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

              8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

              Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

              Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

              When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

              The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

              Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

              9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

              The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

              Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

              You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

              But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

              So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

              If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

              This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

              The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

              Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

              10. Punish Yourself

              Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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              I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

              It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

              You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

              No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

              The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

              But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

              11. Reward Yourself

              When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

              Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

              The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

              After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

              If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

              Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

              If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

              In the End, It Matters

              What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

              When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

              And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

              “Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

              Keep going.

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              More Resources to Help You Build Habits

              Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

              Reference

              [1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
              [2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
              [3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
              [4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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