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New habit: University studying

Academic wellbeing is one of our core 9 pillars of wellbeing that build our wellbeing framework. You may enjoy the contents of what you study, but we all know it is sometimes tricky to sit down and study as we promised we would. Perhaps it is motivation, procrastination, or tiredness – but no matter what the reasons, it can be narrowed down to the simple concept of maximizing benefits and minimizing the chore. To figure out why you are having trouble studying, try to figure out what your trouble with it is. Perhaps you are a perfectionist, perhaps an earlier night is required or perhaps something is generally occupying your mind; whatever the reason we can help you find it and target it in an effective way.

Can studying become a habit?

The short answer is – not exactly. Habits like those in your morning routine are easily formed because they are short, repetitive behaviours occurring in a consistent, autopilot context (Lally, van Jaarsevald, Potts & Wardle, 2010 for more). They don’t require much mental effort when we think about it, whereas studying does. It is a dynamic behaviour - you are likely to encounter lots of different information each and every day. In fact, that is perhaps the best aspect of studying in university. The information is not for learning and regurgitating, but rather for absorbing, questioning and re-moulding to create new ideas. Do not try to make a ‘habit’ out of studying, despite what your parents or teachers may have advised you. A day in lockdown life is already filled with many habits; view studying as the aspect of that day and something can bring you something novel and exciting.

We came up with some short, behavioural tools for making studying that little bit easier:

1.) Positive Reinforcement – a clever technique used by shops in the form of Loyalty Cards, slot machines in casinos and scientists feeding snacks to rats in behavioural laboratories. Good grades are not always the greatest form of positive reinforcement, because they don’t come around as frequently as we'd like. Try rewarding yourself at set intervals, and ensure you keep these intervals consistent. It goes without saying that the reward should actually be rewarding – watch an episode of a favourite show, join our Let’s Chat sessions or make yourself a hot chocolate with all the toppings. For more information take a look at the review by Thompson and Iwata (2013).

2.) Retrieval practice – psychology students will tell you what retrieval practice is (most likely because they themselves have retrieved and practiced the definition). Retrieval practice is thought of as the best method for guaranteeing that information can be ready when you need it. It simply refers to reading and then attempting to retrieve, or in simpler terms remember, the information without any materials, then doing that a few times over. Here is a fun fact about memory: it’s not ‘stored’, as was commonly thought up until the late 1990’s, it is actually environmentally dependent. This is a bonus because you will likely be studying for, and taking, your exams in the same environment in 2021! For more, look at Roedrigar and Butler (2011), and Sutton (2006).

3.) Walking/exercise – many believe that exercise only helps your physical wellbeing, but as the body and the mind are not separable (unless you have trained these sorts of things), exercise benefits your mental wellbeing immensely. This paragraph could honestly be an essay long of reviews that demonstrate the many benefits of any sort of exercise on cognitive performance, but we’ll save that for another time. If you’d like to read more about this however – Dr. Shane O’Mara’s book, “In Praise of Walking” (2019) discusses the unbelievable effects a brisk walk can do for your brain. Perhaps this is the most important tip here, as it also gives a well-needed break from your computer and phone.

4.) Social Integration – According to a theory by Tinto (1975, 1993), social integration is a strong predictor of academic success. We know it may be difficult to make lots of new friends and join societies during the lockdowns, but the committees behind each society are trying their best to make engaging online events for you to get involved in. Our very own version of online events are here for you to join (Let’s Study sessions) or why not take a look through your universities society website, search for a group you might like on Facebook or Instagram and get in tune with what they have to offer this semester!

We hope you can apply some of these simple tips over the next few months, make the best of lockdown life and have a year of pure academic success.

Lally, P., Van Jaarsveld, C. H., Potts, H. W., & Wardle, J. (2010). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European journal of social psychology, 40(6), 998-1009.

O'Mara, S. (2019). In praise of walking: The new science of how we walk and why it’s good for us. Random House.

Roediger III, H. L., & Butler, A. C. (2011). The critical role of retrieval practice in long-term retention. Trends in cognitive sciences, 15(1), 20-27.

Sutton, J. (2006). Introduction: memory, embodied cognition, and the extended mind. Philosophical Psychology, 19(3), 281-289.

Thompson, R. H., & Iwata, B. A. (2005). A review of reinforcement control procedures. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 38(2), 257-278.

Tinto, V. (1975). Dropout from higher education: A theoretical synthesis of recent research. Review of educational research, 45(1), 89-125.

Tinto, V. (1993). Building community. Liberal Education, 79(4), 16-21.