This may not sound right to you, but I can guarantee that most of you are not studying, even when you think you are! Many people think that they are studying when in fact they are stuck in shallow thinking and will rarely learn anything in any great depth. This is because very few of you are doing any deep work.
Deep work refers to work that requires a lot of brainpower. It is hard work but also enables you to feel a great sense of satisfaction. I would consider quality study to be deep work. Now, quality study does not mean reading your notes or your textbook, nor does it mean spending more time going over something that you have already mastered because it makes you feel you get the right answers.
Quality study is study that tests your knowledge and stretches your brain to its capacity. It can be likened to doing a solid workout at the gym. If you don’t feel the burn than the workout was mediocre at best. The same comes with study. If your brain does not feel like it is being worked hard, then it is not really doing much. You should get some resistance from your brain as you dive into deep work. It will try and distract you, it will try and get you to do something else because deep work or quality study is difficult, but the rewards are fantastic.
Did you know that those students who get the top results (band 6) normally spend less time studying than those who get the results just below them (band 5). The difference though is in how well they study, how focused they are, the amount of deep work and high-quality study they do.
High-quality study requires you to be focused 100% of the time. That means you should turn off your phone, be somewhere quiet, free from distractions. In fact, I will even recommend that as you approach your exams and want to increase your deep work or quality study time, that you even quit social media. There is plenty of research around that indicates that even a small distraction can cost you hours of focused work. If you check social media or your emails just before you study, your study level will go down, and it will be harder not to think about what you just looked at. If you want to maximise your results from your study you need to switch off from everything else and just be focused on what you are trying to learn.
In order to achieve more deep work, I suggest that you carve out some time to sit at a clean desk, away from your distractions (phone, computer etc) and focus on learning. And learning is active. You want to be putting pen to paper, or using flashcards to test yourself. If you are going to read something you need to be analysing it, breaking it down, and trying to improve your understanding of the content, not just ploughing through a textbook. Some example here might be, analysing themes and characters in a novel, reading through past exam sample answers and marking criteria to assess the quality of the answer and how it is constructed, or maybe writing your own exam answer, essay or planning a structure or outline for a report.
Remember, the amount of deep work is what matters, not how long you spend “studying”. I would actually argue that any shallow work, re-reading a textbook without writing notes, for example, is NOT study. It is more like leisure time. If you take your phone into your room when you study and spend even just 2 minutes looking at social media sending a Snapchat or something then this is not deep work. It takes your brain time to get into the deep work mode. If you break your concentration to do shallow work then you have just lost 10-20 minutes of quality study.
To help you get lots of quality study time in I recommend that you use a study schedule, turn off your phone, move to a quiet place and be doing some sort of writing that helps you to understand an idea or concept that you are currently struggling to grasp. You should be doing this for 60-90 minutes at a time with short rests in-between (still not looking at your messages or social media though, save this for the larger breaks). During your short rest, go outside and enjoy nature! This will help your brain to subconsciously process what you have been studying before you go back to doing more deep work.
To help keep you motivated, start keeping some kind of record of the number of hours you do a day in deep work, and see how quickly you can rack up those hours. maybe compete with a friend. BUT it must be deep work, focused work, on content that pushes your brain.
Currently, I suspect that there are many reading this who have never done any deep work and have always wondered why they still struggle academically or don’t get the marks they want. I want to tell you that this is because your “study” is very poor! You need to do more deep work, the hard stuff, the distraction-free focused deliberate practice type study! If you are currently not doing this deep work, then a simple step is to try and get 1 hour of this done a day, but I would encourage you to build on this quickly. The more you can do the better your results will get.
You want to aim for 3-4 hours of this deep work a day. That could be 3 x 90-minute sessions or 4 x 60-minute sessions. When done right, it will then free up a lot of your day to then engage with social media, or go out with your friends. Try doing it early in the morning. You will be amazed at how quickly you begin to learn and improve your results.