Staying Motivated When Studying
Some people say that the hardest step in studying is to get started. Once you have taken the first step, the rest is easy, they suggest.
Other people, however, find it difficult to stay motivated when studying, especially when the end seems a long way away.
This situation arises, for example, when you are revising for exams that are still some months away. It can also be difficult to keep up the motivation with a long or extended piece of work, such as an extended essay or dissertation, or even a professional qualification.
This page provides some advice to help you remain motivated while studying, and can also be used by parents to help motivate young people and children studying for exams.
A Strategy for You
There is no single strategy that will work for everyone in supporting ongoing motivation.
However, there are plenty of options that you can try, to see if they work for you. If they do, you should incorporate them into your ongoing strategy. If not, then put them aside and try something else.
The important thing is whether your strategy keeps you motivated, not whether other people agree with you.
Here, therefore, are our top tips for staying motivated.
1. Break the task down into manageable chunks
A big task, such as writing a dissertation, or revising for an extended period, can be demotivating because it seems so big.
Breaking the task down into manageable chunks can therefore help make it seem less daunting.
For example, if you are undertaking a piece of research leading to a dissertation, you might set yourself a period of time to do your literature review. After that, you would plan to develop a proposal for your research methods within a certain period, then do the research. As you start to pull together your results, you may realise that you need to do more research, so that part might be iterative. The point is to have clear sections and tasks to do, to make it simpler.
You may find our pages on Project Planning and Project Management helpful here.
2. Keep your end goal in mind—but also use interim goals on the way
One of the best ways to stay motivated is to remember why you are studying in the first place.
‘Getting good exam results’ is not necessarily very motivating. Instead, you need to look beyond that to what the exam results will get you, whether that is a place at your chosen school or university, or a new job. The more detail you can provide for your goal, the easier it will be to keep in mind.
However, even an end goal may not be enough to keep you going, especially over a long period.
A system of interim goals and suitable rewards may also be needed. This is likely to be particularly true for children and young people who are starting a long period of study for the first time, and who may find it harder to see the end point, but also applies to others. You will need to work out whether you are better with a small reward daily, or after each task, or a rather bigger reward saved up for the week or month.
Suitable rewards include time off, treats and visits, but should be things that you really want, to keep you motivated. Set yourself a budget ahead of time if necessary.
For more about this, see our page on Setting Personal Goals.
3. Get into a study routine
It is generally easier to stay motivated if your studying becomes part of your everyday life and routine.
For example, you might choose to get up an hour earlier, and spend that hour studying each day, or work every other evening, or perhaps study for one day a week. That way, it is easier to avoid being distracted during your study time, because you know that it is set aside for a purpose. Your friends and family will also get to know when your study time happens, and hopefully avoid you then.
You should also ensure that when you start your study period, you minimise distractions. For example, put away or switch off your phone, so that you are not tempted to check it.
For more about this, see our pages on Time Management and Minimising Distractions.
4. Try different study approaches
Especially when you first start studying, you will not necessarily know what works for you.
It is therefore worth trying different approaches, to see which you find most productive.
It is also worth varying your studying to keep you interested. Some days you may want to look at one subject, and try another on a different day. You may also find it helpful to vary your style of working. You could, for example, try working in different places, and varying whether you work alone or with friends.
You could also try different types of activities. Options include reading over your notes, writing a mind map or drawing pictures, making up songs or poems to help you remember facts, doing practice questions, or even teaching something to your friends, and having them teach you something you find difficult. Meeting as a group to share and discuss exam answers prepared by each person can give you a helpful critique of your own answer, and also help you think of other ideas.
It all helps to keep you interested and motivated, and stop you getting stale.
This need for variety is another reason to break your studying down into tasks, so that you can start a new one if you are finding one especially hard to manage.
For more ideas for different ways to study, try our Top Tips for Studying, and our page on Learning Styles.
5. Don’t let your studying take over your life
When you start a long course of study, whether a degree course or a period of study for professional exams, it can feel like it is all-important. This is especially true when exams loom.
However, it is important not to allow your studying to take over your life.
Especially when you are going to be studying for some months, or even years, you need to make sure that you build in time for family, friends, and exercise, to keep you feeling healthy in mind and body.
For more about this, see our pages on Personal Skills for Mind and Body.
There is no ‘one size fits all’
There are plenty of people to tell you that they have the answer to staying motivated while studying. They may have the answer for them, but only you can work out the answer for you.
This page may, however, provide some ideas to help you work out a strategy that will work for you. You may also find our quick quiz, How Self-Motivated are You? helpful.