News & Stories

Top 6 tips for studying at home from an expert

Here are six tips from a psychological scientist and clinical psychologist to hack your brain and make the most out of studying at home.

The COVID-19 crisis closed campuses, schools and workplaces around the world. This meant that many of us are now studying and working at home. Here are six great tips for effective study, straight from Associate Professor Kimberley Norris, clinical psychologist and isolation expert.

1. Create a study space

When working from home, we can lose the physical cues that separate ‘study time’ from ‘relaxation time’. On-campus, the act of packing up our materials and going home cues our brain to switch from ‘work’ to ‘rest’. We need to teach ourselves how to switch off from home. One way to do this is to use environmental cues. These can help us recognise when to ‘work’ and when to ‘relax’. One simple way to do this is to create a dedicated study space.

If you don’t have as separate room, you can still create a space. It might be one end of a table, in a contained section of your bench, or somewhere similar that becomes your dedicated ‘study space’. When in this space, your focus is on study and related activities. When you leave this space, your brain is a study-free zone. It might take a while to teach your brain this distinction (after all, learning takes time) but the science shows that this technique works.

Wherever possible, avoid having your study space in your bedroom. Bedrooms are for rest and sleep, not work. If you can’t make them separate, then make a very clear section of your room for studying. You can also use other types of visual cues to separate your work and rest areas – for example, draping a sheet or blanket over your work space when you’re finished.

It’s also important to keep electronic devices – be they computers, tablets or phones – out of your bedroom. In this way, we teach our brains that bedrooms are for rest and relaxation, which promotes better sleep patterns. This in turn help us with concentration, attention, memory and learning, which are all very important when studying!

2. Take regular breaks

Study is an important part of your life (after all, that’s why you chose to do it). However, it’s only one part of your life. It’s important to nurture all aspects of your identity. Researchers have shown that having high self-complexity – that is, engaging in a range of different activities that you then use to describe yourself (e.g. soccer player, avid reader, baker, gardener, artist, etc.) – helps you to be more resilient and successfully navigate challenges.

Make time to do things other than study that can help relax and re-energise you. You will be pleasantly surprised at how much more efficient and effective your study is when you are well rested and have had a break.

3. Create a routine

Routines provide a sense of predictability over our environment. Predictability helps us feel in control, which in turn helps to manage any worry or anxiety. Having less anxiety allows us to redirect energy that would be spent managing these emotions into studying. So it’s a win-win! 

An additional benefit of routine is that is literally changes our brain. When we repeatedly engage in a behaviour, we build neural pathways. Each time we activate these pathways – that is, we repeat a routine – they are strengthened and become more efficient. Over time, these become our ‘default’ settings and occur without any active effort. Less effort spent on the routine aspects of tasks leaves more mental energy available for learning new information.

4. Stay Connected

We are all members of the University of Tasmania community. Communities, as well as the people within them, are stronger when connected and working together. We can share our experiences, resources, help and be helped.

Make the time to catch up with others in our community. Researchers have shown that when students are actively engaged with their university community, the resulting sense of belonging helps with persistence during challenges and results in higher levels of satisfaction with their studies. In other words, connection with other people helps us become more resilient individuals.

Even if it’s not possible to meet with peers in-person, you can still make the time to catch up online, by phone, discussion boards, email or whatever medium works for you. These catch ups can be university related (e.g. study groups), or more informal (like meeting up for a coffee, even if it’s virtual!).

5. Use the resources available

Studying from home doesn’t mean less access to learning resources. The reason we have these resources is because students both need and will benefit from them. And we want you to use them to get the most out of your studies.

If you’re not familiar with the range of support available to students, head to the student portal.

We realise that study is only part of your experience with us. Support relating to your safety, health and wellbeing are also available, including access to student counselling and the University Psychology Clinic.

And here’s an extra trip for free, which applies to all forms of study:

6. Break tasks down into manageable chunks

Thinking about all the tasks that need to be completed within a unit of study can feel overwhelming. Knowing where to start when you have multiple tasks due for different units can feel very overwhelming. In other words, study can be overwhelming!

The key to feeling in control is to break down our ‘to do’ list into smaller, more manageable chunks. For example, when thinking about writing an assignment, it’s highly unlikely you will be able to start and finish this task within one study session. So break that assignment down into smaller tasks, some of which you can achieve now.

This also allows you to acknowledge your achievements along the way. This really helps with maintaining motivation with longer and larger tasks.