It’s Midterms szn. Let’s get sh*t done.
Someway, somehow, we’ve already made it to the midpoint of the semester, which means it’s time to grind out those midterm papers and prepare for exams. I can personally attest to the fact that this slew of assignments snuck up on many college students, and has left us feeling sliiiightly overwhelmed.
As a senior, I’ve had to unlearn a lot of preconceived notions I had about academic success. That includes abolishing the myth that there is one right way to study. The study environment that’s best for your own personal productivity and comfort might be someone else’s worst nightmare, and vice versa.
Over time, I’ve developed a philosophy that all study environments can be consolidated into three key groups: cozy, sterile, and ambient (a.k.a slightly chaotic). If you’re feeling lost or stuck about what environment will be most conducive to your success this semester, I highly encourage you to figure out which you are most compatible with.
If you find that studying feels best done in the evening by candlelight, and accompanied by classical music playing in the background, this study environment is best for you. You can create the ultimate cozy study space in your dorm or apartment bedroom by setting up a desk with a himalayan salt lamp or essential oil diffuser to get the vibes just right. If you are a regular cozy studier, you may already be familiar with the wide array of ambient soundscapes on YouTube, which range from woodland forests to ancient libraries to rolling meadows. These create a completely immersive experience and provide a light, controlled background noise that allows you to zero in on your notes, Quizlet review, or essay draft. Other great options are study jazz, lo-fi hiphop, or bossa nova, all of which can be found as playlists on Spotify or livestreams on Youtube. And if you really want to take comfy to the next level and do your work in your bed, a lap desk to hold your laptop/notes and a structured pillow for staying propped up are essential during your grind so that you don’t accidentally doze off.
If you prefer keeping the space where you enjoy your downtime separate from your study environment, a sterile study space might be a better fit for you. An example of this could be your dorm lounge or campus library, especially if they have hard-backed chairs and that signature yellow-ish lighting. Many of my peers who prefer to get their studying done in these types of conditions are also big fans of playing white noise (as opposed to lo-fi hip hop or songs with lyrics) and keeping their phones on DND mode, to be completely devoid of distractors. Although it sounds unappealing, that’s sort of the point — the philosophy behind this is that you will be more likely to crank your work out in a concentrated time period so you can leave ASAP.
Ambient (a.k.a slightly chaotic)
If you prefer IRL background noise to a YouTube soundscape or Spotify classical music playlist, a study environment such as a coffee shop or student center might be your perfect match. Certain students find that having multiple other senses activated actually helps them zero in more on the task at hand, so the liveliness and hustle and bustle occurring in a cafe, for example, may do the trick for you, too! Natural lighting is key to this study aesthetic, so find a place with wide windows that lets the sunlight stream in. If you’re located in the NYC area like my university, there’s a variety of great coffee shops that offer plenty of seating and free WiFi — my personal faves are Prince Coffee House on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, Irving Farm, and Think Coffee Shop (both with multiple Manhattan locations). Keep in mind that if you get distracted by loud music (or can’t help but listen in on conversations at neighboring tables) this study environment is probably not the right fit for you.
Finding your ideal study space may take you some time, but is ultimately worth it once you find a place in which you can easily fall into a groove. I encourage you to experiment with these different categories and be honest with yourself about what works and what doesn’t. You don’t need to limit yourself, either; you can employ a mix of all three environments depending on your subject matter, the required level of concentration, or your mood or preference on a particular day. The bottom line is to eliminate your distractors so you can get sh*t done, feel satisfied with your work, and ace your classes.
As we power our way through midterms season, let’s remember to maintain a sense of balance so we don’t burn out. If you find yourself mentally drained during a study sesh, allow yourself to take a breather. Go for a quick walk outdoors for some fresh air or grab some coffee to re-energize. At the end of the day, we are more than just a measure of our productivity, so to all college students: be gentle on yourself and give yourself grace!