11 Good Study Habits to Develop

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Good study habits include finding a quiet location to study, taking breaks, settings goals, and taking practice tests. Here's the full list, and the psychological reasons why they work.

[Featured image] Woman studying in a quiet place at her home

Studying can be hard. The good news is that anybody can develop good study habits to make studying more effective, efficient, and enjoyable.

Want to develop good study habits? Start small—don’t expect to do everything in this list, at least not right away; pick one or two instead. It’s also important to set realistic and achievable goals for yourself. 

Want to learn more about learning? Check out our free course Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects. You’ll learn the psychology behind procrastination and memory, plus many ways to help you get the most out of your study time.

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Good study habits to develop

Here are 11 tips to improve your study habits:

  1. Find a good place to study.

  2. Minimize distractions.

  3. Take breaks.

  4. Space out your studying.

  5. Set study goals for each session.

  6. Reward yourself.

  7. Study with a group.

  8. Take practice tests.

  9. Use your own words.

  10. Ask for help.

  11. Take care of yourself.

Let's take a closer look at how you can implement each of these habits.

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1. Find a good place to study.

Finding a good location to study is one of the most important elements of studying well. Look for a quiet place with minimal distractions—someplace where you’ll be able to focus, and won’t be interrupted by loud sounds or people who constantly want your attention.

A school or public library, a coffee shop, or a quiet corner of your house can all be good places to start. 

Should I stick to one place to study?

Not necessarily. Some studies show that occasionally changing where you study can help retain information. This is because studying the same material in different locations helps your brain create multiple associations with that material, making it easier for you to remember it [1]. It can be beneficial to find three or four places you like to study and switch locations when you’re feeling stuck or need a change of pace. That said, everybody is different. Find what works best for you.

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2. Minimize distractions.

Picking a good location to study can be the first step in keeping yourself focused on your work. But there are many types of distractions that can reach you no matter where you choose to work. Here are some tips on minimizing these distractions:

  • Turn off your wifi: If you’re working on a computer and you don’t need your wifi, try turning it off. This can keep you from inadvertently wandering into the distracting parts of the internet.

  • Be mindful of your phone: It’s no secret that our smartphones can be hugely distracting. Turning off your notifications, keeping your phone out of sight in your bag, or giving it to a friend to keep you from checking it too often can help you stay focused. You might also try a focus app, like Forest or Focus To-Do, that can block distracting apps and set timers for study sessions.

  • Study with a friend: Sometimes studying with a friend or two, whether or not you’re working on the same material, can help keep you accountable and focused. Make sure you each are on the same page about studying and keeping one another distraction-free, at least until it’s time to take a break.

Should I listen to music while I study?

Listening to music while you study has some benefits; it can boost your mood and calm anxiety or stress. But studies show that reading comprehension tends to fall when the music is too loud, fast-paced, or contains lyrics [2]. Stick with calming, wordless songs while studying, and save the upbeat numbers for breaks.

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3. Take breaks.

Taking intentional breaks has been linked to better retention, increased attention, and boosts in energy. Research shows that working for around 50 minutes, then giving yourself a 15- to 20-minute break, can lead to optimum productivity [3]. Here are a few ways you can give yourself a break:

  • Take a short walk

  • Listen to a mood-boosting song

  • Relax with a friend

  • Stretch

  • Meditate

  • Zone out and daydream

  • Have a snack

  • Take a shower

  • Clean your desk or room

Not all breaks are created equal. Checking your phone or social media as a study break has actually been linked to a decrease in performance [4]. 

4. Space out your studying.

Cramming can still help you get a good grade on a test, but studies show that you’re much more likely to forget that information as soon as the test is over. Really holding onto the material you learned (and making exam seasons less stressful) requires consistent and well-spaced study sessions.

Instead of saving your studying for before a test, briefly review material you learned once a week. If you are studying for an exam, space out your studying up to several weeks (or even months, depending on the test) leading up to the exam day. This can help you retain the information long term. 

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5. Set study goals for each session.

Set study goals for each session of studying you have. These can be time-based or content-based. For example, you might aim to study for two hours, or review three chapters of your textbook—or both.

Don’t be too harsh on yourself if you didn’t get through as much as you had planned; sometimes studying can take longer than expected. Keep taking well-spaced breaks, and schedule another study session.

6. Reward yourself.

Rewarding yourself with treats—“bribing” yourself—has been linked to better self-control, and can be helpful in forming good habits [5]. Telling yourself you’ll get a small reward if you finish the section you wanted to get through, or perhaps a larger reward if you have a productive day of studying, can be good motivation to get to your goal. 

Small rewards can be a candy bar, a hot drink from your favorite coffee shop, a quick game of your choice, or a short episode of a TV show. Bigger rewards for a long day of studying or getting done with an exam can include getting your favorite meal, spending some time relaxing with friends, or making time for your favorite activity. 

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7. Study with a group.

There are several benefits to forming a study group. Group members can help one another work through difficult problems, provide encouragement, hold each other accountable to studying goals, provide different perspectives, and make studying more enjoyable. Even explaining difficult concepts to others can help with comprehension and retention. 

If you have a group study session, set a goal the group will work towards and take periodic breaks as you would studying by yourself.

8. Take practice tests.

Tests and practice tests have been long seen as useful tools to help students learn and retain information. Besides revealing gaps in knowledge and reducing exam anxiety, being tested makes us retrieve information from memory—a powerful, study-backed way of holding onto information we’ve learned [6].

Don’t have a practice exam? There are several ways you can “test” yourself and gain the same benefits. Try the following methods:

  • Create flashcards

  • Write your own questions

  • Search for practice questions online

  • Have a friend quiz you

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9. Use your own words.

Expressing an idea in your own words increases your understanding of a subject and helps your brain hang on to information. After you read a section of text, summarize important points by paraphrasing. 

10. Ask for help.

You might find yourself stuck on a problem or unable to understand the explanation in a textbook. Somebody who is able to walk through the issue with you might provide the fresh explanation you need. Approach your teacher or professor, teaching assistant, friend, or study group member for new ways to understand what you’re stuck on. Feel like you can benefit from being coached through a subject? Consider looking for a tutor.

And don’t forget the myriad online tools that might be at your disposal, like the Khan Academy. A quick search through Google or YouTube can also surface helpful articles or videos on subjects you’re trying to grasp.

11. Take care of yourself.

At the end of the day, your brain is an organ in your body—take care of it by taking care of yourself. Get regular exercise, eat well, don’t overdrink, get good sleep, and take care of your mental wellbeing. 

  • Sleep: Studies have linked sleep deprivation to decreased cognitive function, including reduced attention spans and doing worse on tests [7]. Everybody’s sleep needs are different, but people typically need between seven and eight-and-a-half hours of sleep a night. Plus, getting more sleep can make you happier and benefit your social life.

  • Food: Try to incorporate more fruits, vegetables, plant sources of proteins, nuts, and unsaturated oils like olive oil into your diet, all of which have been linked to better cognitive performance [8]. 

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  • Exercise: Exercise brings oxygen to the part of your brain responsible for thought, encourages the development of new nerve cells, and boosts brain cell connections [8]. This makes for brains that are more neuroplastic and efficient—plus it brings a host of other health benefits, like lower blood pressure, reduced mental stress, and weight control.

  • Mental wellness: Mental health is important because it helps us deal with stress, improves our relationships with others, allows us to live more meaningfully, and be more productive in our work. Exercising, eating well, and getting good sleep can each boost our mental health. But there are other ways of fortifying mental strength, such as connecting with others, practicing gratitude, meditating, and developing a sense of meaning in life [9].

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Getting started

Forming good habits can be difficult, but starting with small, achievable steps can set you up to have consistent study habits for the rest of your life. Explore more personal development courses from leading universities and institutions on Coursera. Sign up for a free 7-day trial and start learning today.

Looking to get a degree? Knowing what’s out there is a good first step. Take a look at bachelor’s and master’s degrees on Coursera.

Related articles

Article sources

1. New York Times. "Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits, https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/07/health/views/07mind.html." Accessed July 27, 2022.

2. University of Wollongong Australia. "Is it OK to listen to music while studying?, https://www.uow.edu.au/media/2019/is-it-ok-to-listen-to-music-while-studying.php." Accessed July 27, 2022.

3. TIME Magazine. "The Exact Perfect Amount of Time to Take a Break, According to Data, https://time.com/3518053/perfect-break/." Accessed July 27, 2022.

4. Bustle. "A New Study Says Scrolling Through Social Media Doesn’t Actually Give You A Mental Break, https://www.bustle.com/p/taking-a-break-by-looking-at-social-media-doesnt-help-your-mind-reset-a-new-study-says-18682642." Accessed July 27, 2022.

5. PsychCentral. "The Pscyhology of Rewarding Yourself with Treats, https://psychcentral.com/blog/psychology-rewarding-yourself-with-treats." Accessed July 27, 2022.

6. KQED. "A Better Way to Study Through Self-Testing and Distributed Practice, https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/49750/a-better-way-to-study-through-self-testing-and-distributed-practice." Accessed July 27, 2022.

7. Forbes. "New Studies Show What Sleep Loss Does To The Brain And Cognition, https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2019/11/29/new-studies-show-what-sleep-loss-does-to-the-brain-and-cognition/." Accessed July 27, 2022.

8. Harvard Health Publishing. "12 ways to keep your brain young, https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/12-ways-to-keep-your-brain-young." Accessed July 27, 2022.

9. MedlinePlus. "How to Improve Mental Health, https://medlineplus.gov/howtoimprovementalhealth.html." Accessed July 27, 2022.

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