Where To Study
If it isn’t clear by now, you’re going to be spending a lot of time studying in college. Picking the right place to study is one of the most important things you can do.
The choice is first and foremost about creating a physical and mental separation between work and play. I’ve referred to it before as flipping the switch.
It’s also about eliminating distraction, which is key to studying effectively in college. It prevents wasting time and can dramatically increase your concentration and retention.
Finally, it’s about maintaining your sanity. You are going to be spending a lot of time studying, much of it difficult and frustrating. It is important to find study spots that are private but that aren’t so isolated that they’re lonely and depressing. You have to find the spot that feels right for you.
That spot is going to be different for everyone. It might also change with your mood and what you’re working on. There are dozens of options on campus, so if it doesn’t feel right, move on until you find a set of study areas that do.
I know one place that I consider the very best place to study, but first let’s talk about where NOT to study.
Never study in your dorm room
They put a nice desk in your room. You might think “I’ll just use that.”
Bad plan. Use your desk for piling junk. That will prevent your from using it to study.
Do NOT study in a dorm. Seriously. Under absolutely no circumstances should you ever even attempt to study in a dorm room. You can kiss your A’s goodbye. If there is only one study tip you can manage to follow, it should be this one.
Dorms = Distraction.
You will muddle on the Internet. You will talk on the phone. You will listen to music. You will text. You will watch TV. You will lay on your bed and fall asleep. You will read everything but your assignments.
Worst of all, you will have an endless stream of friends and roommates pulling you in different directions. Their schedules become yours. Your friends and even perfect strangers will be parading into your room without end. Close your door and you’ll still hear them outside.
You’ll pile up a mountain of unproductive time.
I loved my dorm, but dorms are depressing for studying. They are claustrophobic. Small, dark, and dank. Always a mess. You can’t get up and walk around. You get one window, and the view probably sucks.
Leaving your dorm should be your first priority in the morning. Take everything you need for the day. Coming back to the dorm should be your last priority in the evening. If you have to go back during the day, move quickly with stealth and get out of there as fast as you possibly can.
You cannot study effectively in a dorm. The same thing applies if you are living at home, in an apartment, or anywhere else. There is too much opportunity for distraction.
You also need a mental distinction between work and rest. Go to the library to work. Go home to rest. Regardless of where you live, completely separate your study life from where you reside. Go elsewhere.
I love dorms
Don’t get me wrong. I know it sounds like I hate dorms, but I don’t. I love them. Dorms are a blast. Some of the best memories and best friends you will ever have will be made in that dorm. Savor every minute of every year living in one.
That’s my point.
Your dorm should be a social place. It’s home, not work. It is your refuge from a hard day of class and studying. It should be a place to relax, rest, and enjoy. Books closed, done for the day.
Go ahead—text, watch TV, muddle on the Internet, talk on the phone, laugh with all of your friends. Distract others who are stupid enough to study in their dorm. Just don’t study in yours. Ever.
The Best Place To Study—The Library
I love libraries. As Shelby Foote once said, “A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library.” Libraries are absolutely the best places to study. Why? You can flip that switch between work and play. The library creates a complete separation between your personal life and your academic life.
Libraries bring focus to your study time. Cold, efficient, get it done, sink it in deep—uninterrupted and highly effective study. The kind that gets you A’s and lots of them.
Everyone in the library has a big bubble around them that protects them from annoying outside influences. “Shut up and don’t bother me” is thick in the air. The silence is deafening. Learning perfection.
Libraries are one of the few remaining places on the planet where even the most obnoxious people will respect quiet. It is the last place on campus where your friends are going to come in and chat it up. Studying in the library is the pinnacle of good study habits. Nothing is better. It brings focus like nothing else.
Libraries are also beautiful places. Colleges invest millions of dollars in their libraries. They are among the most special buildings on campus. Some are old and historic. Others are new and modern. And there’s almost always more than one library on campus—so test them all.
There are multiple floors, a hundred windows, and endless views to pick from. You can vary all of them based on your mood and what’s convenient.
There are still lots of students hanging around, but unlike your dorm, they aren’t talking to you. You can still see them, but you can ignore them, too. They get it. They are the smart ones, not the time-wasters.
A library keeps you contained and focused, but you can still take a break. You can get up, walk around, read a magazine or newspaper. Many have coffee shops right there.
Libraries are where the research stuff is—the books, the magazines, the journals. And they’re full of librarians just waiting to answer questions. Everything you are going to need for your A— all right there.
You can always find a spot that feels right for you in the library. You can hide in a dark corner or find a bright open area. There are dozens of spots, all with a different feel, all under one roof.
My library study spot was at the very back table in the wide open area of the main library. Nobody sitting behind me. A big window for natural light. A wide open view in front of me all the way to the door.
I could look around and see everyone coming and going. I was near the newspaper and magazine area. I could get up and take a break. I’d walk around, read the paper, and get right back to work.
In fact, I used that table so much that it became mine. People literally knew that I lived there and it was rarely used by anyone else. When someone else sat there I almost didn’t know what to do!
Luckily I had other areas as well. Some were open and others were hidden away. It depended on what I was studying and how much focus I needed. The point is, every spot felt right. It took me a while to find some spots, but once I did, I found I was perfectly comfortable in any of them. You need to do the same.
Getting into a library needs to be a part of your plan. Go there for all of your big blocks of time. Use them for your small blocks of time whenever they are convenient.
Go to the library.
Other Study Spots
I love libraries, but it doesn’t always make sense to go there. For example, you may have a small study time block and you don’t want to waste that time walking across campus to get to the library.
Find as many spots as you can where you can quickly take advantage of extra minutes and still avoid interruptions. Think of them as your study hideaways.
One of the easiest spots for a quick study session is right in a classroom. You’re either going into one or leaving one many times each day. You might as well arrive early and use the time to get something done. If you have an hour or two before class and you know the room’s empty, go there. The best part is that you’ll never waste a minute, since you can literally use every single one right up until class starts.
If the professor’s late, you’re getting work done, not just sitting there waiting. Best of all, it pretty much guarantees you’ll get the best seat in the room. It won’t be taken an hour before class starts.
If you just finished class, stay right there and get something done. The chair is warm. Use it. Get 5 more pages read or clean up your notes. Why waste time walking somewhere else?
As we’ll discuss shortly, after each class you’ll want to review and clarify your notes as well as prep them for review. Just do it right then and there in that quiet, empty room.
Other Places On Campus
If you do have to clear out of your classroom, there are dozens of great places to study on every campus. They’re not as good as the library, but they’re good enough. Make a point of finding them.
The places I’m talking about are everywhere. Small groups of tables in some obscure building. A random cubicle next to a window. An outside patio when the season and the weather are right.
There are dozens of study spots hidden all over campus. They’re worth finding, and you should actively seek them out. They give you the variety that you’ll need to keep you sane.
These are the places where you make the best use of those small blocks of time. When you need to clean up your notes after class, get in 10 pages of reading, do a quick review for a quiz. Have a variety of go-to spots no matter where you are on campus.
Look at your schedule for each day. Walk the route you’ll take going to and from your dorm to your first class, to the dining hall, to the next class. Literally, walk the route. Go into every building and search out all of those hidden spots. Hang around and see which rooms are vacant before and after your class. It’s a great way to get to know your campus and see things you may never find otherwise.
Plan Your Study Spots
Make a plan. A good study plan is not just about what and when, but also WHERE. Every study block you have should also have a location.
The hour before your first class? That hour and a half until your second? The thirty minutes before lunch?
Where are you going to go?
What are you going to do?
Don’t waste time walking to your usual study spot if you can find closer alternates. Find some great places to get things done as quickly as you can.
Remember—minutes matter. Do anything you can in every block of time you have each and every day.
Turn It Off
Finding a good study spot is about eliminating distraction.
You leave your dorm and go somewhere else to do just that. You’ll kill the whole point if you bring the distraction with you. And the solution is one simple rule: turn it ALL off. Your phone. The wifi on your computer. Your smartwatch. Whatever pulls you away from your study time is a distraction, and it’s time to get ruthless about turning them off.
How can you get some quiet, serious study time to yourself if your cell phone distracts you and follows you everywhere you go?
I know I have almost no chance of winning this one, but I have to try.
Stop the Instagram.
Stop the Snapchat.
Really—stop doing it while you study. People text hundreds of times a day. Threads that go on forever. It continually breaks your concentration and consumes a mountain of time.
Seriously, count it yourself sometime and see how much time you spend on your phone each day. Open your iPhone. Go to Settings / Battery and click on the clock icon. It will show you the actual minutes of screen time in the last 24 hours.
Add it up and you’ll be shocked. I realize a lot of that may not be during study time, but be honest with yourself about how much your phone distracts you.
There is nothing more detrimental to studying than your cell phone. Every time you look at your phone, you’ve taken your eyes off of your book and broken your chain of thought. Turn that thing off. Seriously.
There are apps that you can download to block things off at certain times—but you already have that. It’s called Airplane Mode—or OFF. Just use either. Or even better, put your phone in the bottom of your bag and actually ignore it.
Whether you’re studying for two minutes or two hours, don’t respond to anything.
Sorry, rant over.