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5 Crucial Factors That Influence Studying During a Pandemic

Easy tips to improve your study style amidst a stressful pandemic

We all know that different students experience different spectra of stress during examinations and the shift in the teachers’/lecturers’ methods of teaching to an ‘at home’ setting is one that we all are adjusting to. Before you start studying, you need to ask yourself: what can I do to get the best out of the subject I’m studying? This article will help you answer that question by pointing out factors that affect how you study.

1. Environment

  • Cleanliness

For you to be able to study well, your surroundings must be neat and clean. According to the report by Jeffrey Ph.D., hygiene of the surrounding environment directly correlates with a student’s ability to learn. An unclean environment elevates stress levels which in return impacts one’s ability to concentrate and retain what is learnt. To improve the cleanliness of your study space, a scheduled day to clean your room and declutter old or damaged stationeries can help. You can also have a little trash bin under your desk to immediately throw away pencil shavings or used paper, rather than it being scattered all over the room.

  • Surrounding noise

Noise interrupts learning. Many studies suggest that noise lowers concentration and increases stress. Ensure that your work area has minimal noise. While this is not optional for some, you can invest in some noise-cancelling headphones or play instrumental music in the background to stop yourself from being distracted by external noise. Informing those around you that you will be studying for a mentioned duration of time can be helpful in cautioning them about making noise.

  • Comfortability

Your study area should be comfortable. Ensure that your room is well ventilated at a suitable temperature and you have a comfortable desk and chair to suit your size. Being uncomfortable is just as distracting as a noisy environment. Furthermore, when seated comfortably in the correct posture, your ability to stay focused improves. Therefore, make sure that your back is leaning against your chair and your legs are folded perpendicularly. Ventilation improves the comfortability of the room.

Studies explain how warmer temperature negatively impacts cognitive skill development and learning and a research conducted showed how students who study in ventilated rooms were able to perform better than the average. Therefore, you can consider setting up your desk next to an open window with minimal distraction. If such circumstances are unavailable to you, air conditioning or installing fans are effective alternatives that could help improve your learning capacity.

  • Lighting and colours

Studies show that learning under 100 Hz fluorescent lights cause headaches which results in slower retention and learning. Students were found to perform best in cool white LED light or natural light. Though it is primarily suggested to carry out studying during mornings or afternoons, such studies do not show 100% of students’ performance correlating with the results obtained. So, you might be one of the outliers who prefer studying at night. Therefore, it is important to self-evaluate and see what suits you best before following a rulebook.

Believe it or not, the colours around your study environment including that of printed material, computer screens and walls have an influence on memory, retention and attention. A research conducted among graduates showed that congruent and achromatic colours increased the retention of students in comparison to chromatic colours. However, discrepancies among studies suggest that the colours which best suit a study atmosphere differs from person to person. For example, some are able to grasp statements underlined in red better, whereas to others the colour makes them anxious since teachers grade assignments using red ink. One way of finding the colour that best fits your mood is by assessing how each colour makes you feel.

2. Reflection

To truly understand your study style, you must explore your past techniques of studying and how effective they have been for you. How hard did you work to obtain your last grade and how long did you study for? Once you’ve reflected back on your progress or lack thereof, you should set up a better fitting schedule to study. Study schedules are different for everyone. Therefore, you should plan out your own schedule depending on personal priorities and your most convenient time to learn. Break down chapters and set goals to complete for each day. You will also need to have a study plan to make sure you’re getting enough time for revision and assignments that may come up during the course of your semester. Gibbs reflective cycle is a good resource to truly reflect on your study habits, areas where you’re excelling and areas where you could work more on.

3. Assessment style

  • Structural learning

Most of us are having to face assessments and examinations online, at home. This might be peculiar and extra nerve-wrecking. Our well-adapted form of facing examinations in itself was stressful but with the added element of uncertainty in the circumstances we’re placed in might be creating unpleasant feelings. This could be slowing down your normal pace of learning. So how can you overcome this situation and keep up your grade irrespective of the change? Ask your tutor for the new structure of tests if there have been changes made to previous ones and study with the focus of being able to answer that particular structure of questions. Drawing mind maps and flowcharts will further help you when revising.

  • Adapting to questions

Long questions are confusing and breaking them down is important. How do you break it down? First, highlight key words. For example, consider the question, “To what extent does the internal working model influence development?”. Think about “To what extent” and what it actually means to set up your answer. You will need to find evidence to show that the internal working model has been successful in development and evidence against this. After mentioning all evidence, depending on how many strengths and weaknesses there are, the true extent to which the model is effective can be told. For example, “Having reviewed all the evidence the working model moves away/moves closer to being effective in development to a large/small extent”. A question may also use phrases such as “Analyse” or “Discuss”. Each contains its own strategy of answering which you must adapt to. To ensure that you’re answering the question, aim to use keywords at least 3 to 4 times (beginning, middle and end of paragraph). This way, you will pick up more credit and obtain a higher score. Keywords of an essay can be identified from the essay topic or question.

  • Plan, then write

A common mistake many make is that they do not plan any arguments they desire to put forward, before answering the question. Don’t simply regurgitate word for word, previously answered questions to a completely different one. The examiner wants you to demonstrate your understanding and the quality of how you explain things - this is not a memory test like multiple-choice tests.

  • Facing examinations

If you are facing timed assessments, allocate time for each question and practice them beforehand using sample questions. This is especially important since we are mostly familiar with writing down answers rather than typing them. With the many sudden changes and differences in the usual style of assessing, it is normal to feel insecure about your capabilities and work. This might push you to cheat by looking up answers on the internet or through a friend. This is not the correct solution to how you feel. Rather, they would do you more harm than good. Trust yourself and that hard work pays off. Do your best and don’t be too hard on yourself. We are all facing a challenging pandemic. So, it is okay if you have been falling behind because these experiences are important to move forward.

4. Breaks

The importance of taking breaks is hardly spoken about. A break between 5 to 60 minutes for every hour or two can help increase your ability to focus and productivity. However, the break should be meaningful. That is, do not scroll through social media or be in front of a screen during your break. Rather, take a stroll around your neighbourhood, exercise or engage in an aesthetic activity. Using social media during your break declines memory and increases stress.

5. Study techniques

  • Mnemonics

Mnemonics refer to the serial learning method which uses acronyms to remember a sequence of steps or patterns. For example, ROYGBIV helps you recall the colours of the rainbow). Many studies have shown that the use of mnemonics helps acquire long term memory and a hierarchical mental representation of tasks or learning material which allows for uninterrupted and quick fact retrieval. Perhaps, you are struggling to remember certain sections with highly descriptive details. Maybe mnemonics can be the fix you need!

  • Writing notes

If you are having trouble remembering details, writing them down could help you do so. Repeated writing was a learning strategy developed by Japanese and was found to improve memory through visual-motor information encoding.

  • Flashcards

Uncommon and weird sounding words can be hard to remember. In such instances flash cards come in handy. Traditional flashcards can be made yourself. Simply cut out rectangular pieces of paper and write out the question on one side and the answer to it on the other. Next, try answering the question by memory and flip the paper around to check if you were right. The other alternative is to use websites or applications that allow you to make electronic flashcards. Learning this way is fun and helps you recall difficult terminology with ease.

  • Studying in groups

Studying can get very stressful but there are ways of making it enjoyable. You can arrange Zoom or Skype meetings with friends and give each other extra support in areas you do not understand, test each other and assess each other’s work as honestly as you can. Taking quizzes with friends may be a fun interactive way to learn if you do not want to remain too isolated when studying.

  • Highlighting

As previously said, colours impact learning. When highlighting important statements in your textbook or notes, it grasps your attention and helps you retain important facts. Do not highlight chunks of details and try to limit highlighting to one important statement per paragraph. You can also use a key where you use particular colours for important statements, definitions and examples.

  • Video-based learning

Our working memory has two channels to retain and process information. They are the visual channel and auditory channel. When each channel is at work independently, its effect on memory is limited. However, when both work in coordination, our memory is maximised. Video-based learning utilizes this concept under the cognitive load theory. Simply, look up topics of your lessons on YouTube after your lecture/class to enhance your retention of that lesson.

As easy as it sounds to say these out, practicing them is quite hard. However, approach each day with an “I can do this” attitude. We are not going through this pandemic alone. So, if you ever need help, don’t hesitate to reach out. Best of luck!

For extra resources on studying, refer to some 7 Cups articles on Test Anxiety and Mindfulness, refer the self-help guides on Acceptance and Commitment therapy and Getting Unstuck or explore community answers and experiences about mental health topics such as studying and anxiety.


GoldenRuleJG is a psychology graduate with a strong passion for psychology, mental health and counselling. She enjoys multiple roles in the 7 Cups community as a volunteer listener, writer, editor, chatroom supporter and mentor amongst others. As a lifelong learner, she has been enthusiastic about learning diverse skills and has successfully completed the Group Leadership Dynamics and Development (GLDD) and internship programs at the 7 Cups Academy.

Posted: 17 January 2022
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