How Long Should You Study For?

“Hey! Screwed for the Exam?”

“Yeah, probably I only studied 3 hours last night, what about you?”

“I reckon I’ll do alright, I probably studied 6 hours last night, hopefully we don’t get any retarded questions though”

You know that kid who always wants to compare how long they studied with everyone else before an exam? Well you’ve probably had a conversation like the one above where the other person has studied longer than you have. Unless you are the kid who ‘studies’ more than anyone else.

Unfortunately, such an innocent conversation can have a major psychological impact on you just before the exam. You’ll probably go into the exam even more worried now that you know someone else has studied ‘longer’ than you have.

However, with a simple mindset switch, you no longer need to face or put up with this unnecessary pressure any more.

To put it simply, there is no blanket rule on how long you should study every day. Study ‘experts’ suggest 3-4 hours per night and then 8 hours on weekends which totals to around 31-36 hours per week. Add in school commitments from 9-3 everyday which is another 30 hours of school related work. Add these numbers all up and you get 61-66 hours of ‘study’/school related work per week. This seems slightly ludicrous to me. Surely there has to be a better way right?

Fortunately for you there is. With less work, you’ll be able to score higher marks than you did before studying 4 hours every night and 8 hours on weekends.

Instead of looking at the time you’ve studied, you should look at the quality of work you produce and the intensity at which you studied at.

What does that mean?

Let me break it down into an example:

Student 1 studied 5 hours and finished a past paper (not timed) and managed to write a discovery essay.

Student 2 studied 4 hours and finished a past paper (timed) and managed to write a discovery essay and practice analysing some section 1 stimulus texts.

The difference between Student 1 and 2 is as follows: Student 1 studied for an hour longer but didn’t manage to complete as much work as student 2.

This example should highlight the irrelevance of how long you study per day/week but rather you should measure your study based on how much you complete and how well you complete it.

So we’ve looked at the amount student 2 completed vs the amount student 1 completed, but now let’s look at the quality of work they’ve managed to achieve.

Student 1 completed a past paper but didn’t complete it in exam conditions. Student 2 however did complete it in exam conditions. Now, considering your HSC marks are based on an exam wouldn’t it make sense to prepare or study the same way as you’re going to be assessed? Therefore, we can see that student 2’s quality of work was better than student 1 as it is more beneficial to achieving the final result.

So instead of using study hours as a metric for how prepared we are for an exam, it is better to focus on how much we can complete as quickly as possible to the best of our ability.

As such let’s rephrase the question to: How can we make our studying more efficient?

Instead of allocating hours to study you should work out what you plan on doing that day which allows the length of your study session to be determined by how many tasks you have to complete as well as how quickly you finish them. Set aside 5 minutes every morning and write down all the things you need to complete. If you encounter more things you need to do during the day write them on your list as you go. Cross off items on the list as they get completed and then when all items are crossed off you’re free to do whatever you want.

By implementing this method you’ll have greater motivation to complete all you set work as quick as possible so you can spend the rest of the day doing whatever you’d like to. However, the caveat here is that you may become tempted to finish the work for the sake of finishing the work so you will need some self-discipline and you will need to be self-critical of your own work.  If you don’t think you can be self-critical of how much effort you put in, then outsource this job to a friend or family member to decide whether you’ve done the work to the best of your ability.

Woah, so that’s pretty full on. Fortunately, here’s a practical example as to how this works out.

Weekday Example

Daniel wakes up around 7 am and his bus is at 7:45am. Like every other day he’s running late, but after he’s showered eaten breakfast and brushed his teeth, he still has a couple minutes to write down what he needs to do that day before the bus comes.

Checklist for 22/7/16

  • Chemistry Dot point notes module 3 2-3 points
  • Maths chapter 6.1 all questions
  • English practice writing a discovery creative

At the start of the day his checklist as above. Once he gets to school and his teachers start giving him homework the list will look something like this:

Checklist for 22/7/16

  • Chemistry Dot point notes module 3 2-3 points
  • Maths chapter 6.1 all questions
  • English practice writing a discovery creative
  • Maths Chapter 6.2 every second question
  • Business Study, multiple choice 2014 past paper

Then by the end of the school day he’s had a couple free periods where he uses his time effectively to get rid of some of the boring work

Now the checklist looks like this:

  • Chemistry Dot point notes module 3 2-3 points
  • Maths chapter 6.1 all questions (finished half)
  • English practice writing a discovery creative
  • Maths Chapter 6.2 every second question
  • Business Study, multiple choice 2014 past paper

Once he gets home, he starts working straight way because once he’s done he can go for a stroll to catch some Pokemon with his mates.

So that’s for a school day, but what about a weekend?

Weekend example

Like most people Daniel loves sleeping in on weekends. He wakes up at around 10:30 and pulls out a piece of paper to write down his checklist:

Checklist: 23/07/16

  • Chemistry trial past paper
  • English trial past paper

Since it’s a Saturday, he has a party that night so doesn’t have much time to study. So to be time effective, he decides to shorten the total time for each paper by 15 minutes. This gives him the added pressure of finishing the exam quicker meaning that he’s training his brain to work better under pressure.

Such a manageable list allows Daniel to finish everything he planned to do and then take the rest of the day off to party without getting guilt tripped that he didn’t study for x amount of hours.

Personally, I feel this method is far superior to sitting down for blocks of hours and just slogging away at the work with no exact goal in mind. With a clear goal, anything is possible.

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