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To Study, or Not to Study? That is the Question!

The processing of information into the memory system (Côté, 1900)

In this article I will elaborate on the intricate process of studying efficiently versus the usage of pure studying force and why the latter should be avoided. The goal of studying is to transform information (input) into knowledge (output). The process sounds simple right? Alas, the process is influenced by many different factors. The primary factor being that each individual has its own preferences, which helps explain the influence of a process on the absorption of knowledge. Finding what works for you will help you in achieving the most knowledge while simultaneously revealing the optimal amount of studying efforts. Inefficient learning will drain energy and focus, yet excessive hours will not help you remember those necessary little details for a test. Indeed, the gradient of learning will become less steep in longer learning sessions! So how do you optimize your learning?

How to get started:

  • Pick a time-strategy: To start working efficiently, use a time-block strategy like Pomodoro, which involves 25 min of study with a 5 min break at the end. After 4 times, hold a 30 minute break. Using Pomodoro or any other time-block strategy that works for you, will allow you to process more information in less time. In any case, always be sure to take breaks at least every 2 hours from studying (Cirillo, n.d.). Blocking for tests without breaks does not make you retain information after a certain amount of time and will only drain your energy, focus and motivation.

TomatoTimer is a flexible and easy to use online Pomodoro Technique

  • Start simple: To prevent procrastinating behaviour allow yourself to start your first study block with something simple. You can achieve this, for example, by promising yourself you only have to do 1 page thoroughly or even just printing the summary will help you get started.
  • Start with summaries: Summaries are more comprehensible than a bulky book and often a lot of the information that resides within these books is irrelevant for your exam. It’s also a lot easier to read 30 pages in a day than 600. However, if you did not construct the summary yourself, please be advised that focusing solely on a summary is a risk as more information might be required for a passing grade! Be sure to check exam example questions and the requirements for your test. If you want to start studying on time, reading the summary 3 weeks before the exam (or even before class!) can already give you a head start. You will sort of know what it’s about, allowing you to impress your teacher!
  • Start reading and focus with markers: If you are not able to get yourself to start reading or if you lose focus, use markers to mark bold, key or other important words (not sentences!) while reading. It’s a lot more enjoyable that way and provides some focus. Every page you read consequently also presents you with a small reward: a nice colourful page that serves as a quick overview.
  • Start with ONE old exam question: if you have not started studying yet, have no fear even though you are very unlinkey not to know the answer to the exam question. That is fine, as this will allow you to look up the answer in the book/summaries/lecture slides and write it down! Not knowing an answer and finding the answer makes you remember it a lot better. You can even make a summary by writing down the answers to the exam questions clearly and then expanding it bit by bit from there.

General tips

  • Reading a page takes between 2-5 minutes as “You can’t speed read literature” (Maloney, 2009). Doing so would make you miss out on all the important details!
  • The average focus span of a person is between 20-50 minutes and can be trained. However, keep the following in mind:

“Life is just too busy and too confusing to really focus on much more, so regardless of how many brilliant notions are thrown our way, we subconsciously try to pick out just a few, sometimes just one, to make sense of it all.”

(Rehn, 2016)
  • Do not watch tv, Netflix or social media in your breaks! As tempting as it may be, it challenges your discipline due to the small build-in rewards on those platforms. Instead try to listen to a song or make a cup of tea in small breaks or chat with a friend in big breaks. If the above seems unreachable try a digital detox strategy instead of a time-strategy (Griffiths, 2018).

Escape Tech: What Is A Digital Detox, How And Why To Do One And Where To Do It

  • Put your phone on airplane mode, and if possible, try not to study on computers (print it out) .
  • Reward yourself every time you finish a chapter, time-block, summary or summary chapter.
  • Sleep at least 8 hours before you start studying and take a nap after 8 hours of studying to allow for ‘consolidation’. Consolidation is the process where your brain transfers information from your short-term memory to your long term memory. Understanding how your brain works is essential for knowledge building over longer periods of time.

“Much research in the past decade has been dedicated to better understanding the interaction between sleep and memory. Yet little is understood. At the molecular level, gene expression responsible for protein synthesis is increased during sleep in rats exposed to enriched environments, suggesting memory consolidation processes are enhanced, or may essentially rely, on sleep. Further, patterns of activity observed in rats during spatial learning are replayed in hippocampal neurons during subsequent sleep, further suggesting that learning may continue in sleep”

(Preston, 2017)

On an ending note, try start on time with reading your materials (3 weeks), yeah, I know it’s quite obvious but, in the end, it will save you a lot of stress! Use the tips above if you have difficulty to get started or to continue studying. You have no idea what stress can do to your brain, health or hair…


Cirillo, F. (n.d.). Do more and have fun with time management. Retrieved from francescocirillo:

Côté, J.-M. (n.d.). A 19th-Century Vision of the Year 2000. At school. 1900 World Exhibition in Paris, Paris. Retrieved from

Griffiths, M. D. (2018, May 7). Addicted to Social Media? Retrieved from Psychology today:

Maloney, E. (2009, December 15). You can’t speed read literature. Retrieved from The Guardian:

Preston, A. (2017, May 30). How does short-term memory work in relation to long-term memory? Are short-term daily memories somehow transferred to long-term storage while we sleep? Retrieved from

Rehn, A. (2016, April 11). The 20-Minute Rule for Great Public Speaking — On Attention Spans and Keeping Focus. Retrieved from

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