Creating a Good Study Environment

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When I was in college, I hunted high and low for good places to study—literally. I’d go to carrels in the most isolated parts of the cavernous university library to go through books, journals or my own notes, but this never was really satisfactory. (Suffice to say, I broke up a few make-out sessions in my quest for solitude.) I’d also go out to the field in front of the Humanities building, only to find my studying interrupted by hot sorority babes passing by or a few friends inviting me to toss the Frisbee around with them. In addition, my college campus was about an hour’s drive away from the Great Smoky Mountains, so sometimes I’d go up there to get some studying in. More often than not, though, I left the books in the car in favor of hiking or mountain biking.


The funny thing was that the perfect studying environment was right there all along: the bedroom in my apartment. It was a quiet, private place where I could easily get work done. Of course, my grades would’ve benefited if I’d figured this out earlier, but better late than never, right?


Setting up an appropriate environment for studying is a personal affair. People have to employ the things that work best for them, and individuals being individuals, this will fluctuate wildly according to their preferences and prejudices. For example, some folks concentrate better with the iPod shuffling song after song into their ears at full volume, while others can’t focus unless there’s nothing but stone silence in the background.


That said, there are some universal principles that can be applied to ensure the area in which you’ll conduct your studying is just right for you. The main thing to keep in mind is concentration: The ideal environment will be one you hardly even notice as you study.


First, consider the location itself and your own immediate reaction to it. Consider how your senses respond to the external stimuli. Visually, you want to be sure that there is sufficient lighting so that you won’t have any trouble looking over your learning materials. Also, places that are heavy on traffic (automobile or foot) and other steady activities probably won’t be good for the easily distracted. Sounds can highly variable. Surprisingly, loud noises can be beneficial for some learners, so long as they’re constant or rhythmic.


Also bear in mind whether you have any strong emotional connections to the location. This might help or hinder your learning efforts. You might feel more comfortable having it in a familiar setting in your own home, or perhaps in a secluded site at a library or a park. If it’s an area that you associate heavily with another activity—snacking in your kitchen, watching TV and playing video games in the living room—it’s probably best to stay out of there. (By the way, you should probably avoid eating while you study—especially sugar and junk food—as that can hamper concentration.)


What you’ll be using to study also influences where you’ll be doing it. Once you determine what your personal predilections are for a learning environment, consider what tools and materials you’ll need to get the most out of during that time. Generally speaking, you shouldn’t have more than the bare necessities, as too much stuff can drive you to distraction. Unless you’re taking an e-learning course or a computer-based practice test, don’t use your computer. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself playing solitaire or spades within minutes. And for goodness sakes, turn off the cell phones and PDAs or put them somewhere else.

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