5 Most Proven Study Habits: Boost Productivity & Focus

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So you want good grades? GungHo® shares the 5 most proven methods to increase study energy, focus and effectiveness: Get a space, avoid mental fatigue, reward yourself (“Primack Principle”), outline your text and take effective notes.

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You are a creature of habit. Good grades, good habits. Poor grades, poor habits. Simple.

So, you want good grades? If you are reading this, you’re in luck. Let’s get it out in the open so that you are fairly warned. We are experimental psychologists; we applaud methods that have been shown to produce tangible results. We are skeptical of touchy feely, wishy-washy recommendations that may sound good, but are unproven. These are the five most proven methods to increase study effectiveness and academic success.

First, let’s look at the term usually reserved for what we are talking about: study habits. This term has come to dominate the discussion probably because it stems from the idea that for a method to be successful it must become habitual. We agree.

If your grades are not up there where you want them to be, it is probably because your habits in the presence of the material you want to learn are not good enough. You need to change them. Good or bad, you are a creature of habit, as the saying goes. Good grades, good habits; poor grades, poor habits. Simple.

Changing behavior, then, is what improving study habits is all about. And there are behavioral laws that govern the process of changing behavior. Once you understand the laws, the process of changing your study habits becomes much more directed, the chances of success increase dramatically, while the time required obtaining success decreases dramatically.


METHOD ONE: Create a Study Space.

This space is defined by time of day, physical location, the physical material present, and even the human material present. This works because the aspects of the place and time come to serve as cues that automatically prepare you to study. Even if you don’t want to or don’t need to, every time you enter that situation you will feel inclined to, study.

The location could be a room in your apartment or home, the library, etc. The physical material could include such things as the desk and chair you will always use, a lamp, writing instruments, notebooks, a closed or open window, even the kind of clothes you wear. The absence of certain items may also be important: no radio, television, computer noise, smart-phone turned off, no animals, nobody cooking food nearby; no hunger, etc. The time of day can be important, but not always. Many texts will make a big issue of time of day. We don’t believe it is always an important part of the context that increases your study proficiency, and it can more often simply be a frustrating factor when it can’t easily become a part of your routine. If you can study at the same time of day, fine. If you can’t, don’t worry about it. The “human material present” means other people. If you don’t control this factor, your studying is doomed. Studying ten minutes in solitude is better than an hour in the presence of other people who constantly distract you. So, if other people have to be present when you study, make sure they understand not to interfere with you at all, ever, under any circumstances.

You will be amazed at the outcome. There is no single more fundamental tool at your disposal. Oh, and there is a catch. Sorry about that. The catch is that you should do nothing else in that space except study. It is a space reserved for study. No game playing, no texting or posting. You want that space to cue studying and nothing else, no competing behaviors. When you enter it, no other behavior should be signaled. Violation of this principle will undermine your total effort to increase study effectiveness, do better on tests, and achieve academic success.

Take whatever time and whatever measures are necessary to create a unique environment wherein effective, concentrated studying can take place.

METHOD TWO. Avoid Mental Fatigue.

Here are the three time-worn procedures to help you maintain good mental energy:

1. Study in short bursts.
Always get up after an hour (at most), stretch, eat something light, maybe down an apple or an energy drink or bar (we recommend GungHo® as it provides more than just energy; proven memory recall and maintained focus). You may also want to spend 5 – 10 minutes just relaxing and daydreaming.

2. Spend some time on Method One; analyze your current situation.
Where are you? What time is it? What distractions are there? Has anyone called or texted? Who else is in the immediate vicinity? What are they doing? How’s the lighting? How comfortable is your chair? Take a few moments and improve your study environment.

3. Organize to study your least favorite subject first, every subject a little.
Study every subject a little bit, rather than one subject for the whole time. Procrastinating your study until you have to cram is a poor use of your time. Let’s say you need to read 3 chapters in Subject A in two days. If you can spend three study “spurts” per chapter, for a total of 9 spurts over the two days, with each spurt being about 20 minutes, for a total of 3 hours, you will have learned the subject with less effort or mental fatigue and furthermore have learned it much better than studying for one three hour block.

METHOD THREE. Reward yourself.

This concept is often overlooked. The fact is that no behavior is maintained well-enough to become a habit if it isn’t reinforced. Let’s face it: Studying can be a drag at times. In fact, some subjects are just plain hard to study at all and almost everybody has faced the situation where they have to take certain courses they don’t want to take. You need to put some fun back into effective studying if you want it to become a habit. So here are a couple of ideas that should work for you:

1. Reinforce (reward) yourself for every hour you spend studying.

The 5-10 minute break mentioned above is one type of “reward”. You could pay yourself at a certain rate (studying can be a job after all!). You can set a goal of a certain amount study that will earn a certain amount of free time, or gaming time, or sports time, etc. Foods can be reinforcing. Sleep time can be earned. There are hundreds of ways that you can reward yourself for studying. Naturally, when we say “studying,” we mean STUDYING. You need to define this term exactly. For example, it could mean (in the case of history), “reading one chapter and outlining the important points of that chapter;” or “reading 6 pages and reciting from memory every important date on those pages and what happened on those dates.” Definitions such as these will give study more focus, and improve both learning and retention.

2. Implement the “Primack Principle”: Favorites subjects last.

Essentially, you prioritize your study subjects according to value. Let’s say, for example that you like to study psychology best of all (who doesn’t!); next comes English Lit, then astronomy and finally Calculus. Now what you do is arrange them in reverse order so that before you let yourself study astronomy, you have to study calculus, and before English lit, you have to have studied calculus and astronomy, and finally, before you can read your truly marvelous psych text, you have to have spent time studying the other three subjects. You will find that this little bit of organization will provide amazing results.


One of those effective ways to improve retention and recall is to outline every chapter. You want to make the associations between everything that you read and study as strong as possible. You want thought A to lead automatically to thought B, fact A to generate fact B, theory 1 to remind you directly of theory 2, and so forth. Especially for non-math courses, this is one of the very best techniques available to you. This is best done long-hand, not on a computer because you want to think long and hard about what you are reading and typing things can be a brain-dead exercise. Here is what we think is the best outlining procedure, though you may come up with variations that work better for you:

1. Get a notebook, one for each subject.

2. Top of new page put the chapter title. Before you read the chapter, go through and read all of the paragraph headings and subheadings, get a little familiar with where the chapter is going. Challenge the chapter mentally to teach you what it says it’s going to teach you.

3. Each bold caption in the chapter now becomes a major heading on your outline

4. Each italicized heading is a sub heading (You don’t necessarily have to indent sub headings, but they should follow a numbering rule (e.g., A. 1. a. i.).

5. Each paragraph topic sentence is a line item entry under both major headings and sub headings. If you can, rephrase this sentence as a question.

6. Each thought or fact in the paragraph that supports the line item (answers the question) is a supporting line item

Phrase your sub headings in such a way that they explain how they relate to the major headings.
Turning exposition into questions is an incredibly effective method of streamlining your outline and fastening the material in your brain.

7. If you have succeeded in creating a work space (METHOD ONE) in which there are no other people, you will increase retention by talking to yourself while outlining. Talking out loud improves the immediacy of what you are doing and makes it more difficult to become distracted. Plus it can be a lot of fun. You will find yourself questioning what you are reading, saying stuff like, “Is that so?” Or, “Show me the money.” Or “What did you mean by that, beeotch?”

METHOD FIVE. Don’t skip class. Class is where you take notes.

In a future blog entry on GoGungHo.com, we will discuss note-taking in some detail because it is one of the most hotly contested methods for improving grades. For now, just DO take notes, but not on stuff you already know.

Well, there you go. There are probably no greater methods for improving your study habits than those. They reflect effective application of known behavior laws and principles. Certainly, there are dozens of techniques that will improve the effectiveness of those methods, and many of these we will discuss in our blog.

Get a Space, Avoid Mental Fatigue, Reward Yourself, Outline Your Text and Take notes.

About GungHo®
GungHo is a focus supplement for the brain. It was launched by Go GungHo, LLC out of Salt Lake City, UT in early 2012. More than simple alertness, GungHo’s proprietary blend of ingredients are proven to increase focus, concentration, memory storage, and memory recall, while avoiding the harsh rush, jitters, and crash common with energy products.

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Daniel Mason
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