8 Things Your Study Habits Say About You

Your study habits may say more about you than you realise.
Your approach in school can often predict what your approach will be like in the workplace, and that in turn can predict the kind of roles at which you might succeed or fail. Someone who likes to do everything in advance and plan for every last possible outcome could be a great solicitor (if they love the finest details too) or a great event planner (if they’re also good at figuring out what to do if something unexpected makes all their plans go wrong).
That said, if you don’t like your study habits, they’re not set in stone. Many people find that their study habits change naturally as they get older, or as they move from school to university, but there’s no reason to wait for these occasions; if you don’t like what your study habits say about you, you can change them! Even if that doesn’t seem possible, you can at least try to make sure that you work to your strengths in future. Here are some of the most common study habits, and what they suggest about you.

1. You cover your notes in highlighter

Hands use highlighter on notes pages.
A recipe for a colour-induced migraine.

If you’re studying with friends, you can always tell which notes are yours – they’re the ones that are various shades of lurid yellow, pink and green. Once you even had to photocopy your friend’s notes because there was so much highlighter on yours that it tore through the page and you couldn’t make out the words any more. This is a study habit that typically goes along with having your notes colour-coordinated in a beautiful ring-binder, and spending nearly as long designing your revision timetable as following it.
What this suggests about you is that you need to have that sense that you have control over what you’re studying. With everything covered in highlighter, you can prove to yourself that you’ve looked over it (even though, as we’ve noted before, lots and lots of highlighter use doesn’t actually help you absorb information). Feeling in control of your studies gives you the confidence to work harder and succeed. But you can challenge that need to feel in control into a more useful direction – for instance, instead of covering your notes in highlighter, how about trying to write a one-sentence summary of each page? That way, you can prove to yourself that you’ve taken it in, but you’ll stand a better chance of retaining the information.

2. You’re always studying – but not necessarily what was set

Girl looking at books in a book shop.
It’s all so interesting, you don’t know where to start – or stop.

You’ll start off reading the pages of the textbook that were set, until you come across something that doesn’t make sense or piques your interest. You head to Wikipedia, then follow up on the footnote in Google Scholar, then see if your school library has the book that the Google Scholar article referenced. By that time you’re reading something that’s barely connected to the reading you were set, but it’s fascinating stuff and you can’t wait to learn more! Meanwhile, your original reading lies neglected. Pity that you’re supposed to have done it by first thing tomorrow.
Some teachers will have a lot of patience with a student who spends a lot of time studying, even if you’re not following the syllabus, so you might find you can get away with this study habit for some time. But as exams approach, you might well find it taking its toll on your marks, as you’ve learned a great deal – but not much of what you’re being assessed on. This study habit is usually a sign of an enthusiastic scholar, and you’ll find that the further you advance in your education, the less prescriptive your teachers and lecturers become, so eventually you will be able to do this kind of freewheeling study unhindered. On the other hand, it can be a sign that you need to work on your concentration, especially if there’s a danger that you’re avoiding learning the necessary but boring things that are required to make progress.

3.You only study as much as you need to pass

A girl throwing books around.
“That’s enough studying for one day.”

If seven out of ten is good enough, then seven out of ten is what you’ll aim for. You’re probably someone who finds learning new things quite easy; possibly you’ve never really had to try at school. When you can keep going by turning in the minimum amount of work you need to avoid getting into trouble, you don’t think putting in more effort is worth it.
People with this study habit are short-changing themselves, and often get a rude awakening as they advance through school and to university, where their carefully calculated level of “good enough” suddenly isn’t sufficient. The increases in difficulty from year to year can be hard even if you’re used to working hard; if, at the age of 17 or 18, you suddenly have to start working hard for the first time in your life, it can come as a shock. This study habit can come from pure laziness, but it also comes from fear of failure – you’re worried that if you try harder, you might not do as well as you’d like, and that puts you off the idea of trying. But a few failures are worth it in the process of learning to achieve your full potential.

4. You spend all hours in the library

An light, bright library.
You ARE studying – not working on your tan.

There are a couple of different ways to spend all hours in the library. One is because you’re spending your time there studying, and another is because you’re there watching old episodes of The Big Bang Theory and trying to persuade yourself that this counts as studying in some sense, because you are, after all, in the library, and you’re bound to get back to your reading in a moment.
If you’re spending all your time in the library studying, it can suggest that you have too much work to do, that you’re being too much of a perfectionist, or perhaps that the way you’re approaching your studies is inefficient – for instance, you might be spending ages reading through books rather than finding what you want to know by looking it up from the index, and then moving on. But if you’re spending your time in the library procrastinating, then maybe you need to move your study location to somewhere where you can’t fool yourself (or others) into thinking that you’re working without actually doing some work.

5. You leave everything to the last minute

A man works on a laptop while sitting on a giant clock.
“Must finish…must finish!”

Possibly one of the most common study habits is leaving everything until the last possible minute. If you’re not doing your essay the night before it’s due, it’s probably because you’re still putting it off until the next morning, when you’ll scribble it frantically on the bus.
Usually this is a study habit that emerges from struggling to motivate yourself without the pressure of a deadline. Sometimes, this can be rooted in perfectionism – you put off doing something when you’re worried about getting it wrong, but then you put it off for so long that you have to do it last minute. This can mean that you struggle with this habit just as much for the subjects you love as the ones you hate; in fact, sometimes you do your work for the subjects you hate sooner, because you don’t mind doing a bad job.
Students trying to break themselves of this habit might try to find other things to motivate themselves than an impending deadline (e.g. setting up a donation to a political cause they dislike for every day that they haven’t finished an urgent piece of work). But overcoming the issues that prevent you from starting sooner can also help, for instance by breaking the task down into small chunks that you can do a bit at a time so the task doesn’t feel as large or pressuring.

6. You’re fixated on your grades

You can remember what you got on most of your graded work this year, at least in your favourite subjects, but not necessarily what led you to get that mark. You’ve got a good idea of your overall rank in the class as well, and there are a couple of classmates whose grades you always want to know so that you can see if you’ve beaten them this time or not. You’re always deeply disappointed if you get a grade that was lower than you were expecting, even if it doesn’t count towards anything at the end of the year.
This is a bad habit that a lot of students fall into, especially the very academic ones. If academia is your key strength, your grades can start to feel less like one imperfect metric for measuring your ability and more like your personal league table ranking, or worse, a judgement of you as a person, not just your school performance. This habit can also lead to you missing out on finding out what you need to do to improve, if you focus on the grades you’re getting at the expense of the feedback you’re being given. It can be a sign that you’re simply very competitive, or somewhat insecure and therefore in need of the reassurance that good grades give you about your academic abilities. Channeling your competitiveness into something less stressful can help, as can finding other areas of strength to value about yourself.

7. You have 10 tabs open at any time

A computer, laptop, tablet and phone on a desk.
Distracted? You? Never!

If you’re studying on your computer, you don’t feel comfortable unless you have your phone next to your hand, and maybe your email, Facebook, a couple of other social media sites, something with entertaining lists and a weird link your friend sent you open as well. It’s somewhere between procrastination and multitasking, because sometimes you have lots of tabs from lots of different subjects open, and you find yourself flicking rapidly between them.
If you have this study habit, you may be easily distracted. It could be that having picked up this habit, you now find it hard to focus on one thing long enough to begin to find it interesting. It’s worth trying to beat this habit because studies have shown that this kind of rapid multitasking reduces productivity – it feels like you’re being really productive as each switch between topics wakes you up a little, but overall, you end up spending more time doing less work. Train yourself out of this habit by closing some of those tabs and putting your phone somewhere where you have to stand up to check it. That way, you’ll notice more easily when your concentration is straying from your work, and you can nudge yourself to power through the moment of distraction and regain focus.

8. You always ask lots of questions

Girls looking at her phone.
Your bestie thinks you’re far more annoying than Question 8.

You can only get a few minutes into a typical lesson without raising your hand to ask about something. You’ve ended up doing homework last minute, not because you were procrastinating or didn’t have time, but because there was a question you wanted answered about it before you started. You’ve even experienced your friends getting annoyed about how often you text them to clarify details about the assignments you’ve been set – and you hate it when you’ve been set different tasks where they won’t be able to help you with the questions that invariably arise.
This is a study habit that most often comes from insufficient confidence in your own ideas and abilities – and sometimes, an excessive fear of getting things wrong. You might also find that you play things safe in your work rather than trying out something new that might result in lower marks. It can also be a sign of over-analysis – if there’s the possibility that a task could be interpreted in a couple of different ways, you’ll be the one to notice the different possibilities, but not to be confident in your ability to figure out which one was intended. Of course, curiosity also plays a role. But in all of these situations, trying to answer more questions for yourself – whether that’s by relying on your own judgement, doing your own research, or simply having the courage to take a chance – will be beneficial for you as a student, as you grow in confidence and become more independent in your work.
What study habits do you have? Leave a comment and let us know.

Images: girl studying with highlighter and book; girl looking at her phone; girl looking at books; man sitting on clock; girl throwing books; computer tablet phone laptop; library; hands highlighting notes