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How Long Should You Study For A Test?

Have you ever stayed up all night to study for a test? If so, you’re not the only one. A study conducted by Medical News Today found that 20% of college students pull an all-nighter at least once a month while 35% stay up until 3AM at least once a week. While it may seem like these last-minute study methods pay off, students often end up with worse grades due to brain fatigue, lack of sleep, or memory retention problems.

The solution? Space out your studies by breaking your schedule into manageable chunks with the 4 Hour Rule!

The 4 Hour Rule

As its name implies, the 4 Hour Rule requires you to divide your study schedule into 4 hour blocks. Let’s say you want to spend 8 hours studying for an exam. According to the 4 Hour Rule, you could begin your day by studying from 8AM to 12PM, followed by a one hour lunch break between 12PM and 1PM. Then, you can resume studying from 1PM to 5PM. By giving yourself a generous lunch break in the middle of your study blocks, you protect your brain from the fatigue that comes with all-nighters and other forms of cramming.

So, why 4 hour blocks instead of 2 or 3 hours? You can choose to break your study blocks into any length that works for you, but there is some evidence to support the existence of a 4 to 5 hour sweet spot when it comes to focusing deeply on tasks. In a sweeping study about music training, psychologist K. Anders Ericsson observed how many hours musicians at different levels practiced. Conclusions indicated that many of the top musicians in the study tended to practice in 4 to 5 hour sessions.

During these 4 hour blocks, students should aim to cut out all distractions and focus entirely on the task at hand. Once you become distracted, it can take your brain up to 25 minutes to refocus on the current task. So, even a distraction as small as your phone buzzing nearby can eat into nearly an eighth of your study block. Try to avoid multitasking too, as it can actually harm your ability to focus deeply, with multitaskers experiencing a 40% drop in productivity and generally taking 50% longer to complete a singular task.

It’s worth noting that human beings operate according to the circadian rhythm, which impacts everything from our sleep habits to our brain activity. There can be differences in the circadian rhythm from person to person, altering how it affects our individual habits. As a result, you may find that you experience greater success working in study blocks longer or shorter than 4 hours. Don’t be afraid to experiment as you develop your ideal study schedule.

How Study Blocks Help You

You might be thinking, “But cramming works for me! I’ve always done it, and my grades are fine.” That may be true, but breaking up and spacing out your study habits has both short-term and long-term benefits that you may not know about. By switching from cramming to blocking, you could improve your academic performance and protect yourself from bad habits. Here’s how!

Avoid Brain Fatigue

Just like practicing a sport or musical instrument works out your muscles, studying works out your brain. It wouldn’t be wise to spend all day and night before a big game or recital practicing because you would wear out your muscles, possibly leading to a bad performance when it really counts. Studying for an exam is very similar. If you overwork your brain the day before the test by studying all night long without any rest, you could hinder your performance on the exam. Breaking your studying into blocks can help you avoid this issue.

Additionally, your brain relies on glucose for fuel. The longer you study and the harder you focus, the more glucose your brain will use. When your brain starts to run out of glucose, it may become more difficult for you to study effectively. An overworked, glucose-drained brain probably won’t be able to retain the information you’re trying to cram into it. To make the most of the time you spend studying, ensure that your brain has enough fuel by eating regularly and letting yourself rest.

Increase Long-Term Memory Retention

While cramming sessions can sometimes be effective in helping you score well on an exam the very next day, it is unlikely that you will retain the information from your study session in the long-run. If you take classes with cumulative finals that require you to recall information from throughout the semester, this lack of retention can quickly become a problem.

Research indicates that spacing out your studying in short chunks over a longer period is a much more useful learning strategy compared to utilizing long, but infrequent, study sessions. Typically, you will be able to focus better during shorter study sessions, allowing you to actively engage with the material. Spending hours on end quizzing yourself will probably cause your attention to waver, making you more prone to distractions and detracting from the overall value of your study session.

Prevent Procrastination

Breaking up studying is also a great way to fight back against procrastination. If you have a big test coming up, you might find yourself dreading how much studying you need to do. That feeling of dread leads you to put off studying until the last possible moment, leaving you with an insurmountable amount of tasks that can only be accomplished in an ineffective all-nighter.

Try using other methods similar to the 4 Hour Rule to get yourself started on daunting tasks like studying for important exams. The 25/5 Rule and the 50/10 Rule are both excellent ways to ease into block studying. Essentially, these are even smaller versions of the 4 Hour Rule, requiring you to do focused work for 25 minutes followed by a 5 minute break or for 50 minutes followed by a 10 minute break. 

Basing your study schedule around any of these rules helps you combat the urge to procrastinate while simultaneously building automatic breaks into your routine that will allow your brain to rest and avoid burnout. No matter how long your study breaks are, be sure to make them true breaks in which you do not continue to work or think about your upcoming tasks. Use the time to relax and let your brain rejuvenate while you do anything you want!

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Written by Prep Expert

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