The amount of studying required at college can seem overwhelming, especially during exam weeks. Sometimes, various final exams and projects fall on the same week, often on the same date. It’s stressful, worrisome, and exhausting. If you couple that with outside variables like work, family responsibilities, as well as other factors, you may be stretching yourself too thin. How can we get the most out of our study time?

It is important to maximize the amount of short study time you have to be effective. The best thing is that good study habits can develop into very positive habits for a successful life. Below are some helpful tips that will guide you to studying smarter, and not harder.

Have a Clear Study Plan

Take the time to map out your work and set a schedule. Decide how much time you will allot to your studies daily or weekly, what tasks you will complete in your sessions and the order that you will be completing these objectives. When creating your study plan, consider the hours of the day in which you are most productive. If you are like me, that is not in the morning. I am in deep zombie mode for the first few hours after I wake up. So consider when you are most effective in order to schedule any study sessions you will be engaging in. If you find it easiest to study in the morning but hard to concentrate at night, schedule as much of your study for the mornings as possible.

It is important to be realistic when creating your plan. Failure to clearly outline these goals will make all your efforts moot. Once you have a sensible plan, do as much as you can to follow through with your schedule. I know it can be difficult to stay on point with all the modern-day distractions. If you do practice self discipline necessary to stick to your plan, you will feel a sense of accomplishment. Not to mention, you will foster those excellent habits for work, projects, and your personal life.

Avoid Procrastination

Procrastination is easily the most prevalent threat to productivity and effective studying. When you are presented with a large or daunting task or assignment, try to break it into smaller, more manageable chunks and tackle those small chunks one at a time. It’s a simple divide and conquer method. The only difference here is that you are not dividing the tasks between different people, but spreading them over a period of time that works for you (based on other assignments, due dates, etc). Think less about what you must do to complete a project or task and more about ways you can get started on the project. Most people procrastinate because they feel the task is too big and complicated at first glance. Since the assignment, exam or project isn’t due for another three weeks, we feel that there is still time, so we put it off because we don’t exactly know where to get started, and that is usually the most difficult part. Once we get the ball rolling, everything becomes easier.

Another great strategy is to do the tasks that you enjoy the least first. That way, you can get those out of the way early. If you leave them to the very end of your study session, it is simply too easy to put them off to another day.

Block Out All Distractions

Easier said than done, right? How does one block out all distractions when we have so many monumentally awesome ones at our fingertips? How on earth are we expected to study with Netflix Instant Streaming, Angry Birds, iPads, YouTube, Marlins games, Kinect, and The Office? How can I be asked to cut off the appendage known as the iPhone?

The simple fact is that all these awesome things I just mentioned are hindering our study time and affecting our ability to focus. During your study time you need to commit to effectiveness and efficiency.  It needs to be priority for that short period of time. This means blocking out all physical and mental distractions. Always study in an environment that you are comfortable in. You probably already know which sort of environment you are the most productive in so try to always be in that kind of environment.   It is recommended to avoid studying on your bed or a comfortable couch. Studies indicate that if you attempt to study in the place where you sleep, you will not be productive. Subconsciously, you will begin to get more tired and that just adds another distraction to the laundry list. If you have other thoughts on your mind, write them down on a piece of paper before you start studying so that you can clear your head of them and you can concentrate on your studying.

Take Regular Breaks

It might seem tempting to work for hours on end when the exams start drawing close but you are actually doing yourself a disservice. Also, cramming really doesn’t work. Retention of information is best when your mind is fresh, so take short breaks regularly and remove yourself from your study so that you can come back refreshed and ready to absorb more information.

Know Your Course Content

Be sure that you are studying the most relevant information. It is important to actually go to class and pay attention. This brings us back to distractions. Playing Bejeweled on your phone or watching episodes of Mad Men on your laptop won’t help you pass your class. Sitting in class and absorbing the lectures will. You need to ask lots of questions to make sure that you are expending your energy wisely on the content that really matters. If you have slacked off for weeks before an exam, chances are you won’t go into your study sessions with much knowledge about the topic. Making an effort to understand the material while in class is extremely important, because it will bring about shorter, more effective study sessions; almost like a quick refresher as opposed to cramming. I would also recommend more effective note taking in class. Often, students are so focused on writing down everything the professor says that they miss pertinent information and don’t retain key points because they are essentially writing transcripts of the lecture. Focus on what the professor is saying, take down the important notes, and avoid in class distractions. That means turning off your phone and using a laptop strictly for note taking.

By following these easy study tips you are bound to find your study time much more effective. Learning how to study smart is well worth the effort.