How to create better study habits that work for you

How to create better study habits that work for youIt's Wednesday morning, the period before lunch. Your stomach is gently growling as you anticipate the tuna-mayo sandwich (with thinly sliced cucumber – it has to be thin, the texture matters) sitting in the cute Cath Kidston-esque lunchbox you bought on the market last time you took a Saturday shopping trip. The growling seems to be made worse by your anticipation of mild disappointment as your teacher hands back the essays he marked from last week's homework.

Kate, the girl sitting next to you, already has hers back. You managed to peek at the mark she's been given (although you didn't need to, it's always the same). It's an A. Again. Your anticipation of disappointment comes from the fact that you know you won't get an A. You usually get Bs. Once you got an A. A couple of times you've got a C. You don't like admitting it but you're jealous of Kate and tell yourself for the zillionth time this year “I don't know how she does it.” But, if you're honest with yourself you've got a pretty good idea how she does it.

  • She never gives herself a ‘time-out' from homework to watch EastEnders (like you did twice last week)
  • She never goes to the sixth form common room in her free periods; she always goes to the library to sit in a quiet corner (you've seen her there when you've been in to pick up a book now and again)
  • She doesn't let herself get distracted by facebook. (You know because you're friends with her and she never posts before 9pm on a week night).
  • She doesn't work at Sainsbury's one night a week after school and all day on Sunday like you so she can spend all that extra time on her school work.

You suspect there's more to the straight As than this, but if you were really honest with yourself doing all these things right would take you a long way towards getting the straight As you so envy.

In this post I'm going to show how you can change your habits (and your mindset around habits) to drastically improve your grades. You'll be the person that the rest of the class envies at long last (along with Kate, of course).


Know your habits personality

I've been reading the book ‘Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives' by Gretchen Rubin. Rubin has made herself (and her friends and family) a Guinea Pig for the study of habits. From all her observations she came up with four different types of people as far as habits are concerned:

  1. Upholders like to meet their own expectations of themselves as well as everyone else's expectations for them.
  2. Questioners question all expectations, and they respond to an expectation only if they conclude that it makes sense.
  3. Obligers like to please everyone around them but don't do anything to meet their own expectations for themselves
  4. Rebels resist all expectations, both of themselves and from other people.

Understanding your habits personality is key to unlocking the power of habits to improve your grades. I'm an upholder and I strongly suspect that this tendency is what enabled me to get 5 A Grades at A-Level: I had strong expectations of myself and made myself publicly accountable by saying what I was aiming for. Luckily, Rubin has created a little quiz on her website where you can find out your habits personality. Before we go any further I'd like you to go and take Rubin's test. You can find it here.

When you're done come back here and we'll carry on.

How to create better study habits that work for you


The first thing you've got to do if you want to up your study habit is begin. You can either do this small by creating a mini study habit (I wrote about how to do this last week) or you have a ‘Blast Start' (Rubin's words) where you go all in with a full-blown study routine.

The key is to start, and start now. As William Wordsworth said, “To begin, begin.” (Tweet that!).

Wipe the slate clean

The best time to start something beneficial to you is now. But, sometimes it's easier to start when you've got a clean slate. So, at the beginning of a new school year, after a half-term holiday, when you change schools or after you've come back from being ill. It's like drawing a line under what you were like before and saying “This is the new me, and this is how the new me behaves.”

But, as Rubin says, always make sure you follow your desired habits on a Monday. If you don't you'll be tempted to ignore them for the rest of the week.

Get struck by lightening

No, silly! I don't mean go and stand out in a thunder storm and wait till the lightening hits. That would be outright stupid.

What I mean (or what Rubin meant when she wrote about it in her book) was to use a moment of profound change or realisation to change your habits.

Maybe you've really been meaning to change your habits but can't quite bring yourself to. You keep getting mainly Bs with a few Cs and the odd A. Then one day you get a D. Or an E.

In that moment you know something has to change. You've been watching your habits slipping for a while but, in this moment, you see things clearly. Things are changing now and there is no looking back.

Create your schedule

Back in the day when it was me in the geography classroom waiting for my essay to be handed back to me I didn't realise that I'd unlocked one the keys to successful habit formation: scheduling.

I created myself a weekly timetable which I stuck to religiously for my study hours. (I showed you how to create one for yourself here). The secret here was that I had committed myself to spending a certain amount of time everyday to my studies. There were no ifs or buts. I did it.

To be successful with your grades, and build that success consistently over a whole school year, you need to create yourself a study schedule which you stick to.

This is easier if you're an upholder like me, I know. You work well with being accountable to yourself. If you're a questioner you justify it by saying ‘Well, I'll get the grades I want and I won't be jealous of Kate anymore'. If you're an obliger you make yourself accountable to someone else. If you're a rebel, well, I don't really know how to help you, you're a law unto yourself!

Build your solid foundation

I also hadn't realised that I'd created a solid foundation for myself when I created the weekly routine of a straight A student. When I was at school I stuck to a rigid bedtime. I turned my light out at 10:30 because I knew if I was even two minutes late my concentration would be off the next day and I wouldn't do my best.

When I wrote the blog post for the Weekly Routine of a Straight A Student I prioritised things like sleep, eating well and exercise. These things are so important for you in excelling at your studies.

  • Getting enough sleep will keep you alert throughout your study time so it's time well invested;
  • Eating regular, healthy meals will stop you getting distracted by the lure of chocolate or lose momentum because of a sugar-low; and,
  • Regular exercise will keep your mind and body healthy

Create your routine and stick to it. Don't let late nights, a big Mc or the lure of the TV remote and the sofa distract you from maintaining your strong foundation.

Keep yourself accountable

Making yourself accountable to someone else is a proven way to maintain good habits, particularly if you're an Obliger.

You might well use accountability already in your daily life without knowing it. You turn up to school on time because the daily register holds you accountable. You get to Sainsbury's on time for your shift on the tills because you'd get fired if you didn't. You feed your black Lab Buster when you get in from school because of the beseeching look in his marmalade eyes and his wagging tail as he sits over his food bowl.

The thing here is to make yourself accountable for your study habits to someone else. You get to choose. It might be a friend, your mum or me! It could take the form of texting them (or telling them) when you're starting your study time and when you finish. You might like to have a ‘study date' where you get together and study because that's what you're there to do. Or, you could have a weekly meeting with me to check in on your progress and how well you're sticking to your targets.

Monitor your progress

Keeping track of whether you're consistently sticking to your plans is really important in maintaining good habits. If you've ever got 100% attendance you'll know the satisfaction that brings.

Printing off a calendar and ticking off everyday when you stick to your habit can give you enormous satisfaction. I used to do this with my revision plan: every time I'd revised a topic on the plan I ticked it off. With my weekly routine I held myself mentally accountable (I could do this because I was an Upholder and find it relatively easy to hold myself to promises I've made to myself).

If you're struggling to maintain a study habit, start ticking off everyday that you've stuck with it so that you feel that sense of building accomplishment every day.

Give it up

If there's something that is really distracting you from your studies then a simple solution can be to give it up.

I used to be a Neighbours and Home and Away addict. Everyday I'd waste an hour of my life watching this compelling but vacuous drivel. About half-way through Year 11 I realised that I had to use that time more productively if I was to get the grades I wanted.

I gave up watching both my Aussie soaps then and there and spent that time studying. I didn't watch them again until I was nursing my new born baby nearly fifteeen years later (some of the same characters were still in them, would you believe?!).

For me it's easier to say an outright no to some things than to say ‘Everything in moderation'. That's what enabled me to give up chocolate for 15 months once and I've now gone a year without caffeine. If I have a little then I want a lot.

If there's something that you know you can't do in moderation, just say no!

Make it easy for yourself

You're more likely to follow some habits if you make them convenient, or easy, to follow. So, if you're trying to follow my Five Minute Revision Challenge then you'll make it easier for yourself carry your revision cards with you wherever you go. Then you can revise whenever you get a minute.

On a grander scale, you might make home study more convenient by having a nice desk with a comfy chair, lots of nice stationery and some peaceful music in the background.

Make it hard for yourself

Conversely, if there are things that make it hard for you to follow your desired study habit make them harder to do.

If you can't help checking your phone for Facebook notifications every five minutes while you're supposed to be doing homework, leave it outside the room.

Last Christmas Eve I deleted the Facebook app from my phone. Facebook was becoming a real problem in my life – I was constantly reading and checking it and really annoying my children, my husband and all the rest of my friends and family. I told myself I would only delete it for four days (over the Christmas period) but I've never put it back on. I can still check Facebook on my iPad or laptop – I'm not missing out. I'm just looking at it when I've got time and not when I'm with other people who want to talk to me.

Stop the excuses

You know last week when you stopped studying to catch EastEnders twice. You told yourself you'd go back to your studies afterwards but you got sucked in by the telly and never went back.

If you hadn't given yourself the chance to watch EastEnders you'd have stayed studying for at least an hour longer. You were telling yourself that you deserved a break. Actually, you were weakening your study habit (and your grades in the process).

Don't make these kind of lame excuses. Stick with the plan. If you can't stand to miss EastEnders record it and watch it on catch-up when you're done for the day with your studies.

Prevent self-sabotage

Have you ever promised yourself that you'll start eating healthily only to be offered a cake for someone's birthday at break time? You know you shouldn't but you cave straight away because ‘It would be rude not to'.

The same kind of sabotage can happen with your study intentions. You've promised yourself you're going to go to that quiet corner in the library in your free period. But at breaktime your friend says they're going to pop into town and would you like to join them?

It sounds so much more fun that burying your head in your biology text book and learning about excretion for an hour. So you say yes. The problem is you've just sabotaged your good study habit.

The way to deal with this is to make a plan in your head for offers like this. So, you anticipate things that might throw you off course. You could just plan out that you'll say to your friend ‘Sorry, but I'm going to the library to get my biology homework done.' Don't say ‘Maybe next time'.

Think of all the ways that your good intentions regularly get sabotaged and come up with a plan for how you're going to prevent that sabotage.

Self-knowledge is the beginning of good study habits

In her book Rubin covered many more strategies to create good habits. It's an entertaining and insightful read that I'd highly recommend.

The strongest message that came out of her book for me was that you should know yourself and work with yourself to improve your habits. So, if you know that sitting down to enjoy an episode of EastEnders is a real treat for you and helps you get through your day, build it into your routine. But, don't let one episode of EastEnders turn into aimless telly watching for hours on end.

Always be mindful of your own behaviours and natural reactions. If you spot dangerous habits emerging then come up with strategies that will turn them into good habits that will serve your goals.

Start creating your good study habits today

Today is the best time to start creating good study habits. Don't put it off until tomorrow.(Click to tweet that). However, some people struggle with the self-discipline and will-power to make this happen. Book a 15 Minute Study Break Call with me today and I'll help you smash your bad habits and create good ones, and you could be on track to get those A grades you envy in others!


What study habits do you want to change?

Leave a comment below telling me what study habits you want to change and how you're going to go about changing them.

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