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I can't continuously study more than 2.5 hours. After that, I become exhausted. If I continue to study after that time limit, I read something but the materials seem to be not entering my head. I just read and can not pick any meaning from the texts.

If I still continue to study, I become burnt out and can not study again for the next 5-7 days.

My head can be freed off by sleeping. But the problem is, when exam is knocking at the door, I lose valuable hours if I sleep.

How to solve my problem?

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This isn't truly an answer, but one thing that could help you is to study in very different environments. While some people recommend always studying in the same place with it perfectly quiet, this actually makes you dependent on that exact environment to recall the information. Studying in different places, with different sounds and motions going on, actually aids your brain in zeroing in on the material and conditions it to ignore the meaningless stimuli. This helps you, at test time, to recall the material even if the environment is different--how you feel, what sounds, how sleepy, etc. – ErikE Feb 1 '13 at 9:42
Does this happen with ALL subjects in equal ways or with a certain subject(s)? Is the subject interesting to you? Will you be reading about this subject after exams are over? Possibly, the root cause of the problem is a be lack of interest in the subject. – Mohamad Fakih Aug 11 '13 at 9:16
What is it that prevents you from studying for the next 5-7 days? Do you get headaches? – JeffO Aug 27 '13 at 13:02
@JeffO, I just get frustrated. A feeling start to grow in my mind that, since I could not complete, or, achieve a good amount of progress with that much intense labor, the task is actually impossible for me to complete and I may not be able to complete the task within the allocated time-frame. Then it takes 5-7 days to prepare my mind, or, self-counseling, that I am actually able to complete the task. And, yes, I get headaches. – user2963 Aug 28 '13 at 6:11
@JeffO, when my examination is knocking at the door, I keep pressuring myself to continue my study. Then, I keep study along with my frustration and then forget 50% of what I learnt. – user2963 Aug 28 '13 at 6:17

14 Answers 14

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Here are the steps that my successful friends and I follow :

  • Daily wake up before 5'o'clock (most successful CEOs do this)
  • Have 6-8 hours of sleep
  • Do meditation(it gives you perfect peace)
  • Study
    • Make up a study plan; while doing this allot some time for socializing and having fun
    • Before studying develop strong interests on that so that you won't get bored. See the bigger picture as to why you are studying i.e. which college you want to enter, what career and with which of the best institutions, how many people will have better lives, or live longer because of your position in future
    • Study for 45 minutes with 20 minutes break. During the break, eat some fruit or have a nap with calm classical music on.
    • Always try to improve your study time. Eg. If one day you are studying for 45 minutes without a break. Next time try to study for 55 minutes.
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If I wake up before 5:00AM, when would I go to bed to have 8 hours of sleep??!! – user2963 Aug 10 '13 at 6:28
Before 9. That is a pretty common solution. – Rory Alsop Aug 11 '13 at 17:59
As a comment, not everyone needs 8 hours of sleep. Some naturally only need 6-7, some need 9-10. Every person is different; it's good to vary your sleep schedule a bit, say a week at 8hrs, a week at 7, a week at 9, and see when you feel best. There's a lot of research going on in this area. – kenbellows Aug 27 '13 at 18:17

Take breaks. Study for an hour and then a break, then another hour, etc. Never continue studying when you are no longer comprehending the material. Sleep. You will perform better on exams if you sleep well before the exam.

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Sleep well before the night of Exam – srk Jan 15 '13 at 16:52
how long a break? because once I take a break I have a tendency to not stop – Peeyush Kushwaha Apr 24 '13 at 12:59
5-10 minutes most of the time (long enough to go to the bathroom, grab something to drink and walk around for a couple of minutes) with one longer break in the middle of the study hours (to grab some food and/or do something fun) if you are going to be studying for a long time. – HLGEM Apr 24 '13 at 13:46
You could time your breaks with a kitchen timer. And avoid the Internet while on break, that is addictive. Do something more physical. – HLGEM Apr 24 '13 at 13:47
I was taught for 15 minuts every hour. Then, studying neural networks, I was exposed to the fact that neural activity depletes neurotransmitter in the brain and this needs time to restore. I have installed the Workrave and see that it breaks 20 sec every 3 minutes, which totals 54 minutes of work + 6 minutes of rest per hour. – Val Aug 28 '13 at 10:36

Try getting up and teaching the material to a willing-to-listen friend, someone else in the class, a study group, or even an empty classroom (real or imaginary).

Teaching the material can help you study more effectively in several ways:

  • If you're able to teach to a group of people who are also learning the material, then while they benefit (hearing you go over the material, explain points, etc.), you also benefit from being "called out" if you're wrong on / misunderstanding something.
  • Whether you're teaching real people or not, if you're trying to explain the material as a teacher would, you can quickly gauge how well you actually understand it. For example, can you explain topic X clearly to yourself or others clearly, confidently, and convincingly without hesitating, backtracking, struggling to provide examples, etc.? Or if you try to explain topic X, do you throw up your hands and say, "I didn't get this in the first place!?" This can help you figure out what you understand and just need to remember vs. what you need help on by way of listening to a lecture again, talking to the professor, getting help from another student, etc.
  • Finally, teaching—i.e., by actually standing, speaking out loud, writing on a chalk/white board, gesturing wildly to emphasize points—can help keep you awake and energized while going over the material—the opposite of sitting or even lying while studying, which aids sleepiness rather than combatting it.

Plus all of this gives you more empathy for the professor!

Finally, I should note that if you're having trouble staying awake while studying, you're not getting enough sleep, period. If you're getting sufficient sleep, boring material will make you bored but not tired—and the best cure for that is to take short, planned breaks and reward yourself for a job well done (small rewards after successful study sessions and a big(ger) reward after a successful exam).

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Sleep is necessary for long term memory. It defrags your brain so more information can go in. The more you learn, the drowsier you get, and that's telling you to take a break. Have been there and scored straight A's, I've never seen sleep as a waste of time.

The worst possible thing you can do is using methods other than sleep (e.g. caffeine, TV, games) to stay awake and study longer.

Think of your brain like your stomach. If you wanted to get fat, you can't just keep stuffing yourself. You'd have to wait a while and digest the information.

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Can't stress enough how important 8 hours of sleep can be! – Gaʀʀʏ Apr 17 '13 at 22:41
@Garreh Depends on the person. For some, 8 is too many and causes drowsiness, for others, not enough, with the same effect. – kenbellows Aug 27 '13 at 18:19
That's why I didn't mention number of hours. On days which I'm just doing (tiring!) manual labor, 4-5 hours can be enough. During my ivy league study days, 8-12 was necessary to keep refreshed. The more you learn, the more sleep you need. – Muz Aug 28 '13 at 17:37

Make your reading purposeful - try to get a sense for how what you are studying would/can help some one. One trick I used to find useful, was to read as if I am going to teach this to someone or going to write a book on topic. That was I was much more engaged and questioning to the content I was reading and also used to make much better notes.

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There are two things I've figured after many years of struggling with this same thing:

  1. Sleep, there is simply nothing more important. Diet, focus, mood, decision-making - everything is much better when you get enough decent sleep. I hate writing that, though, as even as I do I am thinking "How can I get the same results while sleeping less?" - but after trying everything, I've realized that there's no getting around it.

  2. Break down EVERYTHING into small tasks. If you need to read a book, create a checklist that breaks the book down into small chunks (read pages 1-15, read pages 16-30, etc.) so you can feel a sense of progress. So much better than looking at the project as "I need to read 300 pages" which seems almost impossible when you start.

After many years of trying a bunch of different things, these are the two things that work for me. Good luck!

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Have you considered other formats of reviewing material? For example, could you make an audio clip of the material so that you are using your auditory processing rather than visual processing to take in the material. How about short videos instead of text?

Similarly, have you tried pictures instead of words to see if your visual learning style supports graphics better than words for seeing the information?

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The best way to study, in my opinion is to take breaks and to break the material until manageable chunks. Furthermore, try to study in advance or study in bits everyday to avoid cramming in the last minute. Set up a list of the topics that you need to study within one study session and then go at it. Use the pomodoro technique, it will really help you manage your time and your study sessions. The pomodoro technique will get to work extensively for 25 minutes and then ask you to take a 5 minute break. You continue doing this until you have completed your task or to-do list. If you follow this then studying seem too much like a chore and it will be much more manageable.

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The best way to clear your head after a study session is by taking on a vigorous physical exercise (min. 25 minutes).

The best type is aerobic; but you can do literally anything that gets your whole body moving.

Someone here mentioned you should take breaks; I only partially agree with this. If we're talking about small sessions (25 + 5 mins) then I guess it makes sense to split your work into breaks.

But after a while, you won't be able to focus just by taking a break: you need something of more physical nature to restore your mental energy

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But if I become tired physically then I will feel sleepy. How can I continue my study then? – user2963 Jan 16 '13 at 15:07
This is a myth. Exercise promotes alertness and gives energy - it doesn't take it away (unless of course taken into extremes, but I'm guessing you won't do that). – Tool Jan 16 '13 at 19:56

Breaks are very important while studying. Take a five to ten minute every half hour or so, walk away from your work, go outside, do something to take your mind off of it for a moment. Also, psychological studies have shown that it's best not to do you homework (or what ever you are doing) in your bedroom, because you don't want to create a stressful environment. But definitely try to do your studying in different areas. I've found that working outdoors really helps in (in good weather, of course.)

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2.5 hours is a lot. I think that there are many people who can't even deal with that.

Break it down.

I have learned during a self-help program developed by an expert in learning that learning 30 minutes and then taking a 5-minutes break, learning 30 minutes, 5 minutes break, learning 30 minutes, 20 minutes break would be the pattern our brain would take best. During those breaks you have to stretch, drink some water, leave the room you're learning in.

Also, how are you learning? Have you tried alternative ways of learning? Mindmapping? Photoreading? If you prepare now for an exam it is not a good time to learn something as complex as Photoreading, but mind mapping is extremely useful because it helps you structure the information and uses both brain hemispheres, which help long-term retention. If you want to try it, here is a free tool for mind mapping.

If you can, do your best to involve best brain hemispheres by using drawings, colors, music, anything that involves an image, a sound, a metaphor that can be associated with the information you try to take in. It takes away the boredom and increases learning efficiency.

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What works for me is to switch the subjects and take frequent breaks. So something like this on any given day:

  1. 1 hour math reading
  2. 0-30 mins break
  3. then 1 hour math problem solving
  4. 30 mins - 1 hour break
  5. 1 hour physics reading
  6. etc.

It's much easier to study 5 hours a day by rotating subjects than it is to study the same material for 5 hours straight.

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In Finland (famous for the PISA results...) the standard is 45 minutes of learning + 15 minutes break. I'm not sure if the results speak for themselves, but I enjoyed the frequent long breaks and found even hard things to be easier to learn. And the meta content of the 45 minutes of learning is broken down to roughly three 15 minute parts: 1) explaining the concept, 2) practicing, and 3) the teacher going through the results to the whole class.

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Studying for long hours produces stress, cramming and forgetfulness. Me, being one who struggles with studying finally found a way to help. Admit it, studying is hard, especially for long hours. Eventually your head feels thick and your eyes feel so heavy. I've found that taking at least five minutes break for every twenty minutes studying helps to keep my concentration much more intact. Drink loads of water to prevent headaches and it does help to concentrate. If your eyes are getting heavy stop and just look around the at the landscape, go for a walk outside, and don't constantly blink. Find something else that distracts you. After five minutes you may be actually surprised that your eyes aren't feeling so heavy anymore. Remember, studying takes diligence and self-control, try to see some fun in it. And don't be gloomy while studying!

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