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When the sun's out and the football's on TV, ploughing through a dull textbook feels like a chore. But instant gratification and the more delayed benefits that come from study don’t have to be at odds.
The trick is to get into the habit of studying a little bit every day, so that revision becomes part of a healthy and productive routine. Here are a few tips on how to strike that elusive balance.
People work better at different times. Some feel at their sharpest early in the morning, while others find it easier to concentrate at night when there may be fewer distractions. By the same token, being a night owl or a morning person can easily become an excuse for not working at particular times of the day.
If you're finding it hard to balance work and other commitments, making time before work or dedicating an hour or so before bed could make a big difference to the amount of material you can cover in a week, without having a knock-on effect on other parts of your routine.
When there are assignments to complete and exams to revise for, it's easy to become holed up at home, where twice-hourly coffee breaks and daily 'power naps' can be serious productivity killers. Whether it's working in a university library or just a local coffee shop, separating where you work from where you live makes it that much easier to switch on and off. As well as lifting your mood and increasing your productivity, you'll also be able to share your thoughts (and pain) with people who are in the same position.
While it's never going to be a substitute for hard graft, doing a little of bit of revision on the bus to or from work can beef up neural pathways and build understanding. The old-fashioned way of doing this is with notes and revision cards. While there's not much wrong with this, improvements in connectivity and smartphone technology have made it easier than ever. Students doing a MOOC with edX, for example, have thousands of hours of interactive resources at their fingertips - perfect for fitting in a bit of extra practice.
When the pressure's on to get results, however, it can be just as easy to work too hard. Our brains need rest in order to process and retain new information. This means there's scientific evidence to back up the old clichés about the importance of a good night's sleep and learning something just before you go to bed. Encouragingly, this is also true for coffee breaks, since wakeful resting has been shown by recent research to improve the retention of new information in the long term.
A bit like learning to play a computer game or a new sport, revision is most effective when it's relaxed and spread out. Overworking for a long period can be just as detrimental as cramming and burning the midnight oil. By doing a little bit every day, you'll be able to leave regular gaps between study and make time for other things.