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Adjusting your study habits during COVID-19

We'll get through this together.

Things may feel out-of-control right now and you may be facing a lot of disruptions and unknowns. During this time, try to be patient with yourself, your classmates, and your instructors. Take care of your well being first. Adjusting your studying habits and making a plan may provide a sense of control during this unprecedented time. 

Our guide for academic success

In this guide, we’ll talk about: 

  1. Staying organized
  2. Avoiding multitasking
  3. Making the most of video lectures
  4. Setting a schedule
  5. Trading your strategies for new ones
  6. Working with a group or team
  7. Staying connected to other people

Remember, your study habits may need to change. 

1. Staying organized

With so many things changing in your courses, you must be reliving that first-week-of-class confusion at finals-week pace.

Here are things to keep track of for each class:

  • Are in-person parts of the class changing?
  • What are the in-person components of this course? (lecture, lab, etc.) 
  • Where can you find it or how do you access it? (livestream, lecture capture, etc.)
  • Is it at a specific time or can you watch it anytime? Are assignments changing? 
  • Are there new due dates?
  • Is how you’re submitting your assignments changing? 
  • Are any quizzes or exams being offered virtually? What should you do if you need help?
  • Is your course offering virtual office hours? When and on what platform?
  • Is there an online forum for asking questions?

2. Avoiding multitasking

If you’re doing more work on your own and your time is less structured, you might be more tempted to multitask. Many people think they can do multiple things at once, but research shows that only about 2% of the population can multitask. Even if you feel like you’re multitasking, you’re probably not…really, you’re switching between tasks very quickly, or ‘microtasking.’

The downsides of multitasking and microtasking:

  •  Assignments take longer. Each time you come back to an assignment from a distraction, you have to get familiar with it again, find your spot, remember what you were going to do next, etc.
  • You’re more likely to make mistakes. Distractions and switching between tasks tires out the brain.
  • You’ll remember less. When your brain is divided, you’re less able to commit what you’re learning to long-term memory (because it doesn’t get encoded properly into your brain). What to do instead: When you need to study something important, consider The Magic of Monotasking.
  • Focus on one thing at a time.
  • Take breaks between tasks.
  • Consider the ‘Pomodoro Technique’ to help you focus for 25 or 50 minute periods and then reward yourself with five or 10 minute breaks.

3. Making the most of video lectures

  • Stick to your instructor’s schedule as much as you can. Staying on a schedule will help you have a feeling of normalcy and prevent you from falling behind.
  • Find out how to ask questions. Is there a chat feature? Is there a discussion forum?
  • Close distracting tabs and apps. Unfortunately, we’re not as good at multitasking as we think we are! (See #2)
  • Take notes as you would if you were there in person.
  • Watch recordings at normal speed. Research shows that playback speed of 1.5x can lower your retention and can result in lower scores on assessments. Faster playback speeds are worse for complex, multi-step material (which most of your lectures probably are).

4. Setting a schedule

As the situation continues to unfold, you may have fewer social commitments and/or group meetings. Setting a schedule for yourself can help provide structure and keep you motivated. If you don’t already keep a daily or weekly calendar, try following a schedule like this to organize your time. Your mental health is incredibly important, so be sure to include time for exercise and self-care.

5. Trading your strategies for new ones

Your routines may also have to adjust during this time. Look for ways to adapt your usual habits or form new ones. For example:

  • If you usually study in a coffee shop or library, ask yourself what kind of environment helps you study and see if you can recreate that at home. Maybe it’s studying in a chair, rather than on your couch, or moving to a new spot when you change tasks. If you feel you need background noise, consider a white noise app or binaural beats.
  • If you always study in groups, try a virtual or even phone-based study session with your group.
  • If you thrive on tight timelines, but now have a more open schedule, think about how working with others or setting up a schedule can recreate that for you.

6. Working with a group or team

Remote collaboration will look a little different, but it is possible.

  • Try not to procrastinate. That group project may be out-of-sight, out-of-mind if you aren’t seeing each other regularly. Resist the urge to put it off. Make small progress and stay in touch.
  • Meet regularly, especially if you usually touch base during class or lab. Consider a quick text on your group chat about progress every couple of days. Ideally, have real conversations over video when you’re working together. Check out the online tools you have access to.
  • Set a purpose for meetings and use a shared notes document. Meetings might feel different when using video, even if your team was really good at working informally in the past. Try to set the purpose of your meeting in advance and take notes in a shared document so you can all follow along and contribute.
  • Keep videos open when you can. As long as you can see whatever you need to collaborate, try and keep the video visible on your computer screen. It’ll help you see the expressions of your teammates and stay connected to each other.
  • Check on each other and ask for backup: If someone has been absent from your group meetings or chat, ask them directly if they’re still able to participate in the project. If you aren’t getting responses within a day or two, let your instructor know. Know it isn’t being petty, it’s your team’s responsibility.

7. Staying connected to other people

During times like this, connecting with family and friends might be more important than ever. Even if we limit how much faceto-face time we spend with others on campus, staying in touch with instructors, classmates, and group mates is still important for continued classwork. Here are a few ideas:

  • Schedule video calls with friends and family. Talking with loved ones is often really helpful when you’re stressed or nervous about something. Taking a break to have a laugh is also important.
  • Attend virtual office hours or study groups so that you can stay up on your coursework. Please remember, this will pass. If COVID-19 has disrupted your upcoming travel plans, ended a lab experiment you were excited about, or for any reason feels like it came at the worst possible time, remember: this is temporary. You’ll find your way when it settles down. You’ll get back on track, and things will get back to normal. We don’t know when, but it will happen. Until then, take a deep breath, do your best, get some rest, and wash your hands.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

This guide was adapted from the Center for Academic Innovation at the University of Michigan