Some Study “Pearls”
Often when we study, we read. We read notes, we read a book. We even read when we transcribe something, such as notes to new notes, or a book to notes, etc. When we perform this operation called "reading”, we know we are engaged in this activity because usually we "hear a voice” as we read. It is as if we are reading out loud to ourselves. It gives us some sense of security because as long as we can "hear” ourselves read, we feel we must be studying. Some people can sit for hours and study (read).
However, there is a difference between hearing ourselves while we are reading and absorbing (transferring to memory) what we are reading. It could be the difference between efficient or productive study and inefficient or unproductive study. Research suggests that the average person reaches a threshold whereby after a particular amount of time we continue to "hear” ourselves reading and therefore think we are studying, but we may not be absorbing. In essence we might be "spinning our wheels”. Of course we probably have our own individual thresholds of when we stop absorbing. Studies suggest that the average time for peak absorption is 45-50 minutes.
So, to be on the safe side, instead of programming ourselves to devote 6 PM to 11 PM (in other words, an uninterrupted number of hours) to study or prepare for an exam, we should be setting some sort of timer to signal when 45 or 50 minutes are up, then immediately stop. Even if we are in the middle of studying a step-by-step mechanism such as an atheroma formation, the Cori Cycle, or itemizing what contributes to the Net Glomerular Filtrate Pressure, we must stop and do something physical, however minimal, such as a couple of pushups, sit-ups, or jumping jacks and then take a sip of a cool/cold beverage (not alcohol, preferably water). Then we can go right back to the task that was interrupted. Just resume reading from the spot where you stopped. Repeat this every 45 to 50 minutes. This might very well increase "absorption” time, or in other words, improve productive study time, while obviously increasing the total time allotted for study.
Another study trait that many people have is if they were successful in their studies for a previous degree, they feel justified in maintaining the same rhythm and intensity when seeking the next degree. We often forget that: 1) we change, with regard to concentration patterns, memory processing, etc., 2) material to be studied has changed in terms of what the present goals are from what the previous goals were, and 3) the meaning of what the new degree means to us at "this stage of life” may be different than what the earlier degree meant to us at a previous/younger stage of life. The stresses are usually different. The point being, perhaps we should be reassessing/reprioritizing how we go about doing things instead of merely assuming what worked before will work now. We all know that life is not stagnant, and neither are our needs and capabilities.
Very often another major impediment to productive study is inefficient sleep. Often the "sleep bug” forgets about us. Of course the first thing to consider is whether or not we are experiencing some gastrointestinal disturbance. Perhaps from over-eating during that last meal, eating something that disagreed with our system, or eating too close to bedtime. Assuming we can rule out any GI disturbance and medication side effects, what we most likely have as we get into bed is either anxiety over something we are aware of or anxiety over something below the conscious level that keeps us from falling asleep. We may also be "overtired” or we haven’t come down yet from exercising too close to sleep time and therefore are still under sympathetic response and stimulated from the physical exertion. The tendency is to toss and turn, trying to find a position that distracts us from something of an emotional nature, or allows us to feel more comfortable physically. Perhaps we may try "mind games” such as the proverbial counting of the sheep (or some such counting exercise), or the focusing of a distant body part such as the toe and then working our way up the body. Most studies show that when one is tossing and turning, thus trying to "force” sleep, staying in bed is not a constructive method to getting efficient sleep and indeed might even add to the problem.
Often an impediment to good studying is "inefficient” sleep. Frequently it is not the amount of sleep that is productive. Eight hours of restless, agitated, active sleep may not be as efficient as fewer hours of more relaxed sleep. If the REM cycle is increasing at the expense of the NREM Delta sleep, one indeed may be getting more hours of sleep, but it probably is less efficient sleep.
One suggestion is that when we are overtly restless, we should get out of bed and sit under a dim light bulb with the lowest energy possible and read under this yellow, dim, or low light. Quite often this may make one drowsy. When that feeling comes on, that is the ideal time to get back into bed. The point is, if we are finding that that we are putting in a great deal of time studying, but not seeing positive fruits of the labor, and in addition, we are getting many hours of sleep time, it could be that not getting "efficient or productive” sleep may be the culprit interfering with the absorption of what we are reading. Of course, if not being able to sleep is a persistent problem, a professional should be consulted.
So, with regard to studying, some of the behavioral traits to consider are: knowing your time threshold for absorbing material which often does not mirror the time spent reading; getting optimum, relaxed sleep time, which often does not mirror total sleep time or total bed time; and rethinking and re-strategizing our study "rhythms”.
Grosz R. Some Study “Pearls”. The Internet Journal of Allied Health Sciences and Practice. 2014 Jul 01;12(3), Article 1.