If you’re like most people, studying can be something of a chore—an important chore from which you will emerge prepared and more knowledgeable, but a chore nonetheless. But if you’re the sort of person who enjoys reviewing algebraic formulas as much as hanging out with your best friend, playing your favorite game, or cuddling with a puppy, then more power to you, because you have a rare and truly magical gift. However, most people don't find the "fun" in studying.
However, you can improve your study habits and make your process more enjoyable. You can learn how to learn more effectively, retain more information, and even do it faster. And, yes, you might even have some fun along the way. So, how do you make studying more fun and productive? (Because, let’s be honest: The less studying you have to do, the more fun you’re going to have.)
1. Manage your time
Time management may be the secret weapon to succeeding at...well, everything! All it takes is sitting down with a calendar (online or on paper) and your course syllabi, and just mapping out everything you need to do and the time you need to do it: projects, tests, part-time work, homework, parties, doctor appointments. Everything. It takes some work up front, but then you can take a step back and see what kind of time you have/need to complete your homework and study for upcoming tests and quizzes. If you’ve ever felt blindsided by a project, test, or even a social event, you owe it to yourself to give this a try.
Related: How to Improve Your Time Management and Study Skills
2. Set the mood
Everyone needs the right study environment! First, choose a designated, dedicated study area. And we mean a specific, unique spot: a different chair, a corner of the rug, even sitting at the foot of your bed as opposed to the head! Your spot may be in your dorm/bedroom or the library, but wherever it is, get in the habit of thinking of the place as sacred ground, where you are a studying machine. Whether you need complete silence or blaring Scandinavian dragon metal playing in the background, or if you prefer to lie on your bed or sit in a corner of the library, develop a study routine that will allow you to focus. Hints: clean, de-cluttered spaces are said to improve productivity, and video game soundtracks are engineered to help you focus. Speaking of focus, turn off your phone! And while you’re at it, limit your access to the Internet—or at least block distracting sites.
3. Make it a game
Are you the competitive type? Try competing against yourself to see how quickly you can get through your stack of flashcards—without getting anything wrong. See if you can improve your reading speed to get yourself under a certain number of pages in five minutes. Or try joining or starting a study group with friends and take bets on who can get the most right answers on your Calc II homework.
Related: SAT Word Game
4. Take breaks
In that hour or two you’ve scheduled for studying (using your brand-new time management skills, of course), make sure you also give yourself adequate breaks. Set a timer—even a short one, like 25 minutes—and commit to working your butt off during that time. When the timer goes off, give yourself a few minutes to relax, drink some water, stretch, etc. Then set another timer and dive back into your studying.
5. Reward yourself!
Sweet treats and other snacks often come to mind as a “reward,” and that might work for you, but it’s also probably not a great idea to down a bag of potato chips after every 25-minute study session. Rewards can be as simple as allowing yourself to indulge in 15 minutes of completely brainless videos on YouTube. Or you can set goals, like scoring in a certain percentile on your midterm, and then buy yourself something fun when you meet them.
Related: 6 Creative Study Tips for College Students
Of course, even after implementing all these ideas, it’s important to realize and make peace with the fact that studying isn’t always going to be “fun.” By the sheer virtue of the variety of classes you are required to take in high school and college, you’ll likely prefer some classes to others. If you dislike a certain subject, it can be tough to get your head in the game when studying but dwelling on how miserable you are is only going to make it worse.
In those instances, try to keep in mind that you’re setting yourself up for future success. Keep everything in perspective—you’re putting in 40 minutes of serious flashcard time now that pays major dividends in the form of potentially higher test scores, which might mean better school and scholarships available to you. Look for the silver lining in your studies, and you just might find you have a greater appreciation for them.
Looking for more study tips? Check out the rest of the articles in our Majors and Academics—Study Smarter section.