So You Want To Be A Good Little Nugget?: Study “Hacks” Part II

Welcome to the part most of you probably really want to see. Rather than give a meaty introduction, I’ll go ahead and just dive in.


1. Mix and Match.

Instead of sticking to one topic, work with different material in one sitting. Doing a series of problems helps with critical thinking and developing strategies

2. Time your sitting.

Personally, I adore the pomodoro method. I often found myself getting distracted very easily or had a hard time staying on task whenever I would try to do my work for a long period of time. Currently, I have my study time blocked off and use the timer to manage this time. The pomodoro method is simply working for twenty-five minutes and taking a five minute break. After four sets (an hour) you take a fifteen minute break before beginning the next set. I am busy from 12-5pm every Tuesday and Thursday, and to counter this I have 9-11am blocked off  and use my app (in the link) to complete any work before that time period. There are other fun apps to use as well. I have one on my phone that will allow me to grow plants as I’m studying or working…but if I touch my phone it’ll die.

3. Change up the scenery.

Sometimes the task of studying isn’t the problem. Many times it’s where we choose to study that has an affect on our productivity. Moving around forces the brain to form new associations with the same material and helps with retaining that information. I have several study spots:

  • My Desk (at home)
  • Dining area (at home)
  • Music Library: Either in my personal carrel or out in the lobby area
  • The Graduate Lounge (in my department)
  • The Graduate Student Center (Every Wednesday my grant program hosts a study/writing event…with food)
  • Local coffee shops
  • Starbucks

And the list practically goes on. I study at different times throughout the day and take advantage of the accessibility I have to these locations. Being able to work from home in the morning on Fridays is fairly new to me after spending 4 1/2 years with a class at 9 or 10 in the morning.

Also being near a window is a personal favorite for when I am studying before the evening. The sunlight and view is a small breath of fresh air after spending twenty-five minutes in a swamp of reading.

4. Check yo’ self.

What I mean to say is check to make sure you are actually retaining the information and able to reflect on it. This can be done several ways for example:

  • Quiz yourself
  • Talk it out with a classmate
  • Talk with your professor (especially if you have any questions)

These are just a few, but the last two have been extremely helpful to me when reading scholarly articles or books.

5. Kumbaya.

Some people can be a little skeptical when it comes to group work, but anyone can benefit from a study group. A prime example of this is my undergraduate music history course. I had the same peers in each sequence for four semesters. To prepare for quizzes and tests we created google docs, we had study nights, we quizzed each other, and so much more. We did well in that course sequence as a collective and even got kudos from the professor for our work ethic. Even if arranging a meeting is difficult, technology has advanced so much that your can create and rearrange your notes with someone else in real time! Take advantage of it. If you do meet up be sure to have snacks, drinks, and motivational tunes to drown out your sorrows.

6. Food.

Water. Yes you must have water. Why? Let’s say you’re busy from 8am-6pm and want to work from 7pm-10pm. You’ll be worn out from your day and probably yearning for your comfortable, soft, and bouncy companion. Drinking water keeps your brain active AND you’ll never be able to fall asleep with a full bladder. Keep a full glass nearby and when it’s low fill it up during that 5 minute break. As for snacks, small things like trail mix, apples and peanut butter, etc. are helpful…even chocolate! Stay away from snacks that have a lot of sugar like nutella or skittles.

7. Feeling Tired?

Take a coffee nap. Coffee naps improves the power of power naps. Simply drink a cup of coffee followed by a twenty minute power name that will keep you fueled during your study block if you happen to feel drained. For the science behind coffee naps go here.


1. Read strategically not linearly

Sometimes we find ourselves bogged down with tons and tons of reading, ESPECIALLY in graduate school. With 700+ pages of reading it’s nearly impossible to read every single word especially when taking multiple seminars at once.

For books:

  • Look over the table of contents-this will give you a general idea of the topics that the author covers or an overall idea of what the book may be about and gives you an outline to use for your notes.
  • Read the entire introduction/preface-this generally gives you a summary of the argument and what each chapter is about.
  • Read the last chapter/conclusion or epilogue/postscript-this gives you the author’s overall conclusion to tie in with what you’ve already read about the argument.
  • Read/Skim the beginning and end of each individual chapter– this is to help gather the main points.
  • Read the middle parts of each chapter- this is to help you gather the evidence used by the author to support their argument.

For articles:

  • Check the name of the journal– this will help you place the article with other scholarly discourse on the topics that journal may focus on.
  • Read the title then the abstract– this will practically tell you what the article is about.
  • Read the introduction then the conclusion– this is to get the author’s argument, evidence used to support the argument, and their final conclusions (if any).
  • Skim back through the article to find the frameworks and/or methodologies used.

Keep in mind that it is always best to read from a critical perspective. Ask yourself questions, discuss any feelings you have about the author’s framework or methodology with a classmate, etc. to really let the information soak in and for you to expand your understanding of it. Also, reading critically will come in handy if you have any other smaller projects like writing book reviews or keeping a reading journal.


1. While reading…

  • The Sticky-note method
  • Write a brief overall summary
  • Note card method: one for new terms, one for thesis/argument and evidence, one of questions, and so on.
  • Highlighters*** -use sparingly, this is a method for memorizing information not for thinking critically…I only highlight important quotes, sources, or statements made by the author.
  • Create a mind map

2. In general…

  • Write your notes. It’s already been scientifically proven that our memory is better with handwritten notes. I suggest writing in cursive. If cursive is not your strong suit, type your notes then write them later. This helps with being able to refer back to the information and retaining it.
  • Mind maps (see link above)
  • Shortcuts. Use “txt” speech such as b/c for because, b for but, w/ for with, etc.
  • STOP WRITING WHAT YOU ALREADY KNOW. Use that time for netflix or treating yourself.
  • Visual notes. Draw pictures as you take notes. For example, if you’re reading a text on a jazz musician draw their instrument (i.e. Louis Armstrong-trumpet). Also very similar to mind maps.
  • Develop a method. For my notes I always write the date (day/month/year format) and write in dates of any due dates mentioned during class. I always put a new topic on new paper or on a new page (I use One Note to take notes), which makes things organized without me wasting time writing a title (that is what the date is for). I have a system of symbols too:
    • I use the dot for general points, dash as “sub-points”, arrows to emphasize the importance of points, to show whether two or more points are connected I color code with a dot beside the point or highlight them.

I hope this load of information helps! Tumblr is another great place to find cool studyblrs (study blogs) with bloggers using phenomenal techniques to study or complete their work. If you have any questions or would like to suggest anything you think I should try (I’m always open to new things to keep my productivity up) leave a comment below or email me at theleadingtoneblog@gmail.com! Happy studying!!!


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