As students, we often find ourselves spending our time between one of three places: the clinic, the classroom and the library. Unlike college, “social studying” with friends is no longer a viable option. As much as I miss spending hours sitting on the quad pretending to read “Introduction to American Literature” while actually talking with my friends about our plans for the weekend, the rigor of dental school demands different study habits. Now that the focus is on efficiency and time management, how can we find new ways to study and stay focused?
To start, it’s important to remember that not everyone studies the same way. What makes each student successful can vary greatly and understanding your own needs can help you avoid another unsuccessful study session. I envy my colleagues who can spend hours studying in the same chair and desk for all four years. But, for those of us who thrive on variety, here are some questions to ask yourself when hunting down your latest study spot:
Is WiFi essential?
The internet can be your best friend: it grants you access to your notes, Blackboard, YouTube and any other resources you may need. But, like all good things, it comes with a price. The internet can also be a black hole for the time you’ve carefully set aside, enabling you to browse through social media, watch animal videos and “Keeping Up with The Kardashians.”
If your study materials come straight from your notes or a textbook, consider moving to a quiet place that does not offer a wireless connection. You may find that some locations focus on table-churning, or getting customers in and out as fast as possible. However, there are also independent coffee shops that expect their customers to bring a book (or a laptop) and stay for some time. This can be found by exploring locally-owned venues, rather than going for the usual Panera Bread or Starbucks. Alternatively, you can always just turn off your WiFi. By spending some time enjoying the ambiance and coffee at the mom-and-pop store down the block, you get the added bonus of helping your local economy – just make sure you respect any store policies regarding laptop use.
Is snacking keeping you going or getting in your way?
Spending a full day in the library can be both a mental and physical workout. The traditional solution to this problem would be to pick a location with food sold nearby so that you can use your study breaks to get your snack on. However, studying near a crowded farmer’s market or a popular downtown food district can let your belly (and mind) wander much farther than you’d like. Personally, I’ve found that being too close to food vendors can just leave me thinking more about their menus and less about my oral histology slides.
To avoid being constantly distracted by too many food options, consider taking pre-set meal breaks at a fun place closeby. Studying at another university’s library allows you to do this. Most universities have a plethora of food options in and around campus for students to enjoy, but most are often not located close enough to distract you while you are in the library. Driving over to a nearby campus to borrow their facilities can also offer a nice change to your usual study scene. Be sure to check online or call ahead to confirm availability of guest access, internet usage and open hours.
Is it music or just noise to your ears?
Headphones can be a study staple that can save us from hours of distraction. While many students enjoy listening to a carefully curated playlist of favorite tunes while studying, others may prefer an environment with a low level of background noise. In fact, a 2012 study in the Journal of Consumer Research found that moderate noise levels, similar to that of a coffee shop chatter or a television playing in the living room, can boost abstract thinking and fuel creativity. But at what point are these ambient sounds counter-productive to helping you stay focused?
As much as background noise may make you feel more focused, it can also be distracting. While that study found that low-level ambient noise can be beneficial for creative tasks, it also found that quiet environments are better suited for projects requiring more focus – like memorizing that list of pharmacological drugs. Try to avoid crowded areas while studying: most of us find it hard not to notice what is going on around us and may even find ourselves (innocently) eavesdropping on conversations. If you need a low level of noise in the background, try experimenting with different types of sounds. Although absolute silence may help some students achieve maximum focus, it’s worth a try to see if the sounds of nature, or simply music without lyrics, can help you retain more information. If anything, this can help you keep each study session interesting without turning it into a sing-along.
~ Akshay Kolluri, Howard ’20