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Take regular study breaks

Did you know that studying for too long can have serious consequences?

  • Insomnia
  • Loss of concentration
  • Eye strain and fatigue
  • Poor knowledge retention
  • Inadequate performance on tests
  • Loss of memory To avoid these consequences, give yourself plenty of breaks. If possible, get away from your study area. Go outside for a walk or to sit on your porch and watch the neighbor kids play touch football. Grab a cold beverage and a snack, then veg in front of the television for half an hour. Avoid looking at a screen during these breaks. Yes, you should even avoid texting your latest squeeze. Focus on other parts of your life that involve different parts of your brain. You’ll thank yourself later.

Ask for help when you hit a wall

It’s hard to ask for help. However, if you remain stuck during your online course, you must speak up if you want to get the full value of the education. We all struggle with study materials sometimes, and depending on your preferred learning style, you might have better luck with some modules than with others. If you need clarification, communicate with your instructor or other students. Many teachers set up preferred communication channels, whether it’s email, instant messaging, or direct messaging on social media. Try to use that channel to get answers to your questions. Just remember to phrase your question politely and to give as many details as possible. For instance, you might say, “I’m struggling with the section on [topic]. From the video, it’s not clear how I [perform a specific action]. When you have time, could you elaborate about [specific list of details] so I might understand it better?” Fill in the blanks with details pertinent to your course. If your course involves interactions with other students, befriend them. Learn to ask one another for help. In most cases, you’ll struggle with different parts of the course, so you can help each other through the rough patches. Of course, you can also seek guidance in the real world. Maybe you have a friend or relative who has experience with the course material. Getting help from someone you know might feel less uncomfortable, especially if you’re new to online learning.

Build a study plan

Now it’s time to get serious about your actual study sessions. If you have a written, stable plan, you’ll be more likely to stick with it after you start your course. There’s no right or wrong study plan. The right one will work with your schedule and allow you to fulfill your other responsibilities and obligations. However, don’t be afraid to push yourself. If you’re constantly striving for better results, you’ll get through the course faster and feel more fulfilled at the end of it.

Identify your learning objectives and goals

Earlier, you decided what you wanted to get out of your online course. Now you need to learn your instructor’s objectives and goals. This is important because it will inform the course’s direction. If a professional creates an online course on fitness, he or she could have several goals for students:

  • Increasing muscle tone
  • Losing weight
  • Improving range of motion
  • Increasing flexibility
  • Lowering body mass index
  • Improving endurance If you want to lose weight, but your instructor has designed the course around bulking up, you might not feel satisfied with the results. In other words, your goals and the instructor’s must align. Read as much as you can about the course before you sign up. If necessary, contact the instructor to find out about the material’s objectives. You can then make an informed decision about whether it’s right for you. Once you know your goals and objectives, write them down—preferably in a place close to where you’ll work. Review them every day before you sit down to go through course material or to study your notes. Keep them in mind as you progress through the program. If you feel you’re not hitting the objectives, reach out to your instructor or to other students. Figure out where you might have gone wrong, then devise a plan to get back on track. However, don’t push yourself to meet objectives or goals by a deadline someone else creates. You know how quickly or how slowly you learn, so design your milestones based on that knowledge.

Create a dedicated study space

You don’t need to replicate your third-grade classroom in your home to participate in online learning. However, you do need a comfortable place to work. When choosing a place to learn and study, look for a few essential qualities.

  • Light: A dark room or space can become claustrophobic and even depressing. It will also lead to faster eye strain and fatigue. If you have a dark home or office, consider adding extra sources of indirect light. You can buy inexpensive desk lamps with rotating heads at Target or Walmart for less than $10.
  • Ergonomics: If you try to sit on the floor with your laptop balanced on your knees, you’re going to wind up with a sore rear end, a stiff neck, and aching shoulders. Ergonomic work spaces allow you to focus on the study materials. When you’re uncomfortable, pain and stiffness will distract from your work and make you less likely to return to studying.
  • Ambiance: Some people can work easily in a crowded coffee shop or restaurant, while others need absolute silence, and still more need to listen to music or keep the television on in the background. Don’t assume that you learn best in pure silence. Experiment with different environments to figure out how best you work.
  • Distractions: Let everyone in your family know that you’re taking an online course. Ask them not to bother you while you study so you can focus on the material. You might even turn off your phone and close your internet browser tabs except for the one you use for studying. Once you get distracted, returning to work becomes increasingly difficult.
  • Supplies: Do you need a fresh cup of coffee? A bottle of water? Maybe a bag of carrot sticks in which to snack? Before you sit down for an online course, get everything you think you might need. If your coffee is within easy reach, you won’t have to interrupt your studying to go into the kitchen and prepare a pot. Some people have their own home offices. Such a room provides an ideal place to study online, but it’s not the only option. Consider the dining room, kitchen, or bedroom as long as you won’t get distracted by family members. Additionally, choose the right time of day for online studying and learning. Maybe you learn best when you review materials in the morning, right before work, or perhaps you’re a night owl, and you’re most comfortable when burning the midnight oil. Find out what works for you.

Use high-quality prep instruction and materials

In preparing for the MCAT, quality is better than quantity. Even if you’re spending countless hours on review and practicing thousands of questions, if the quality of your instruction and materials are not that good, then you’re not reaching your potential. If you’re aiming for a very high score, chances are you’re taking MCAT classes or a prep course. If that’s the case, you should look for these qualities in your prep course:

  • High-quality instruction, through videos or live instructions
  • Provides full-length practice tests
  • User-friendly interface or app
  • Uses analytic tools
  • Score guarantee (recommended) Some of the best MCAT prep courses have all the features listed above and more. It’s up to you to evaluate each one closely to identify which course suits your needs, study habits, and the length of time you have to prepare.

Ensure reliable internet access

If your internet access isn’t reliable, you might get interrupted throughout your course. Worse, you’ll waste your time and resources. You can often find excellent WiFi at a coffee shop, internet cafe, or similar public space when you can’t rely on your home’s connection. While the occasional storm and outage are beyond your control, you want the best chance of not getting disconnected. These days, online instructors often use live forms of teaching, such as webinars. If your internet goes out during one of those events, you can’t participate in the conversation along with your other classmates. Signal boosters, extra modems, and other technological fixes can help improve your access to reliable internet at home. Additionally, consider using your desktop computer if it’s wired to your modem instead of relying on a laptop or mobile device that depends on a wireless connection.

Familiarize yourself with online learning practices and expectations

Many people jump into online courses with a lackadaisical attitude. If you take that approach, you’ll cheat yourself out of valuable content. Approach online courses and studying just like you would if you were sitting in a classroom, right under a professor’s nose. In fact, you can pretend like a professor is standing over you while you study if that helps. Next, figure out what you want to get out of the course. You know you’re going to pay attention, study, and take the course seriously, but what end result do you desire?

  • Master a specific skill
  • Improve your competence in a specific area
  • Get ready to obtain a license or certification
  • Expand your knowledge about a subject
  • Feel more comfortable conversing about a topic
  • Gain a rudimentary understanding of a subject Each of these goals will require different levels of devotion and course complexity to achieve. For instance, if you’re an English-speaking person and you want to become fluent in French, you’ll need a different course than someone who just wants to learn the basics for an upcoming trip to Paris. If you’re clear about your expectations, you’re far less likely to get disappointed when the course ends. You’ll go into it with a particular objective in mind. Write down your goals on a piece of paper for later review. As you sort through your options for online courses, you can figure out if your goals and the course material match up. Finally, check in with yourself during the online course. Do you feel comfortable in the learning environment? Can you remember what you learned back at the beginning of the course. Since many online courses proceed quickly, you might feel obligated to keep up with a fast pace. Don’t. Instead, allow yourself to work at your own rate of speed. You’re not in competition with anyone else. At the same time, avoid giving yourself too much time off or too much slack. If you’re constantly putting off your studying time or neglecting to move on to the next section, give yourself a serious pep talk. You can also ask someone to serve as your accountability partner. He or she will check in with you regularly, ask about your progress, and provide any needed encouragement. You might even become each other’s accountability partners as you take the same course. You don’t have to stick to the same schedule, but you can provide motivation for one another.

Take breaks often and reward yourself

Your brain can only take so much. Give yourself time to relax and refresh every so often to come back to your study material with fresh eyes. While you’re breaking, eat a healthy snack (like nuts and dried fruits) and watch that funny cat video your friend sent you earlier. Don’t feel guilty about it — taking brief breaks will actually help you in the long run. A burnt out brain just doesn’t work as well.

Study using a variety of methods

Don’t be afraid to spice up your study life. If your eyes start to glaze over as you stare at those practice questions on your screen, mix it up! Make some flashcards to memorize vocab or have your friends quiz you on important information. Find ways to make it interesting and fun to retain more information.

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