As a graduate student, you probably put a lot of thought into how you study; but when was the last time you thought about where you study? While finding good study tools (i.e., flashcards or note-taking) can help enhance retention, your study space is just as important to your learning as the strategies you use. The right study space can help you stay focused, organized, comfortable, and productive — all of which maximize your ability to learn. Whether you’re an online student who doesn’t have access to on-campus amenities, a hybrid student who works in libraries and coffee shops, or a traditional student who likes to study off-campus, this guide will cover the pros and cons of the most common study environments and how you can customize your preferred study space.
5 Common Study Environments
“Perfect” study environments aren’t the same for everyone. Depending on your preferences and ability to focus, you may prefer a coffee shop to a library, or your home to a park. Whether you like sunlight, silence, music, or being alone, picking the right environment will significantly impact your study session. Let’s talk about the most common study spaces and their accompanying benefits and drawbacks.
Most local coffee shops sell an assortment of refreshments and have a cozy mixture of tables and booths. The environment is made to be social and comfortable, and many students find they prefer such a place because there’s enough audible (and edible) stimulation to keep them focused. These students either tune out the chatter and treat it as white noise or use a pair of noise-canceling headphones to block it out. However, the noise and movement of a coffee shop — along with the temptation to spend money on refreshments — may be cons to some students. What’s more, hauling around supplies like textbooks and laptops can be a burden, especially for students who use public transportation.
A coworking space is like a coffee shop in that many people can use it at once, it’s not a silent area, and there’s often a coffee or vending machine for refreshments. Generally, coworking spaces also offer services students might find helpful, like good Wi-Fi or a printer. Since coworking spaces are designed to help people work, there are potentially fewer distractions than in a coffee shop.
One major con of working in a coworking space, however, is that they generally require some type of fee for daily, weekly, or monthly use. Some may also find the noise distracting, since group discussions and people moving around will happen. You’ll also have to follow the often-unspoken rules of shared spaces, such as only listening to music over your headphones. You may also need to bring your study supplies with you, which might feel like everything you own and the kitchen sink.
It is harder to quantify studying from home, as there are several factors that can affect your environment. If you’re lucky enough to have a dedicated home study space, you can keep everything you need in one spot and (hopefully) enjoy some peace and quiet. You also won’t have to work around store closing times or resist tempting snacks. Ideally, a private study space also means you can also control the lighting, noise level, temperature, and general ambiance.
While studying from home is usually more comfortable and convenient, there are a few cons to consider. For example, studying in a home office space requires dedication, self-control, and structure; otherwise, studying when you say you will and avoiding distractions can be challenging. If you share living space with roommates or family, you may also find their presence distracting — especially if you have to set up shop in the living room, kitchen, or another shared space.
Both public and campus libraries are popular options for studying because of the quiet environment and limited distractions. You’ll find chairs, tables, computers, and many resources within a few paces of where you sit. Libraries are often kept a little on the cold side, which can help with concentration, and some even have separate rooms for group study. If you go to a campus library you might even find sections with dedicated noise levels, from collaborative to silent.
Drawbacks of studying in a library include the inability to control the temperature and noise level, as well as the need to be quiet yourself. Depending on the time of year, libraries can also be quite crowded; for example, on-campus libraries may be packed just before midterms or finals, often resulting in less seating options and more noise than usual.
Choosing to study outside might look like sitting under a tree, on a park bench, or out on a balcony or patio. The benefits of studying outside encompass those of just being outside, including increased natural energy, a better mood, and reduced stress. If you choose to study outside, you’ll also enjoy increased creativity and feelings of community in group settings.
However, studying outside doesn’t provide a professional environment that’s designed around productivity, so taking group projects indoors might be a better option. Studying outside also means you’re subject to changing weather and in some cases, unreliable internet access.
What to Do When Creating a Study Space
Now that we’ve covered the most common places to study, we can talk about creating your own study space. First, consider your personal study preferences, such as your preferred noise level. For example, if you’re someone who needs to study in complete silence, a coffee shop might not work for you, but noise-canceling headphones will. Second, designate a place for studying. Ideally, it will be comfortable, clean, well-lit, and with limited distractions. Though this isn’t always possible, do the best you can with what you have and consider implementing the following suggestions.
Clean Up Clutter
Dirty clothes, candy wrappers, pizza boxes, cat toys, and dirty dishes are all clutter. But why is it so important to clean it all up before you study? Simply put, the more things you have to look at, the more opportunities your mind has to be distracted. While you’re studying, you don’t want to look over at a pile of laundry and think, “That needs to be folded,” or stand up to find out where on earth that smell is coming from (hint: it’s the garbage). Meanwhile, a clean area provides fewer distractions, boosts productivity, and lessens anxiety levels. So before you start studying, pick up the trash, put away any miscellaneous objects, and rid your space of anything that could distract you. If the clutter isn’t your own, consider a different space or ask permission to move it somewhere out of sight.
Dedicate a Space Entirely to Studying
While having a dedicated study space may not be possible, do the best you can. Studying in the same place every day can help your body and mind get into a study routine (though sometimes switching it up is necessary if you’re too comfortable). A dedicated study space should also have all the materials you need for that particular study session, whether they are there native ly or you bring them with you. So, if you need reliable internet access, you’ll want to reconsider picking the very middle of the university gardens as your dedicated study spot. If you live in a dynamic environment, consider picking out two or three places you could study, and choose the one that best fits your situation at the time.
Ensure Proper Lighting
The importance of having proper lighting when studying can’t be stressed enough. If you’re thinking about pulling a late-night study session six-year-old style (think flashlight under the covers), please reconsider. Dim or improper lighting can create eye strain, which may cause them to itch, burn, and tire quickly. Discomfort in your eyes will pull focus away from your studies and affect your productivity, so it’s always important to set yourself up for success. If there’s not enough natural light, take measures to open the curtains, turn on the lights, and consider a supplemental desk lamp. If you don’t have control over the lighting, consider carrying a cordless, rechargeable lamp or reading light.
Have Access to Necessary Study Materials
While this one may seem obvious, having everything you need to study right where you are is essential. If you don’t have your study materials, you’ll find yourself breaking the flow to search for what you need. These interruptions reduce productivity and increase the possibility of distraction. To have a successful study session, be sure to gather everything you may need before you start. This can include a dictionary, calculator, textbooks, class notes, scrap paper, index cards, instructions, and — our favorite — a notebook or piece of paper to write down any stray thoughts that may pop up. Rather than allowing an off-topic thought to distract you, write it down to get it out of your head and keep studying. You can come back to that list when you’re finished. If you don’t have an in-home study space, consider digitizing as many of your resources as possible to reduce the number of items you have to carry with you.
No matter where you are, there’s a good chance there will be at least a few distractions. Distractions are anything that cause you to lose focus or move your attention away from your studies. But if you anticipate them happening, it will be a lot easier to deal with them when they show up. For example, some people struggle to study when it’s too noisy, while others struggle when it’s too quiet. Whatever your personal distractions are, it’s important to identify them and remove or minimize them to avoid interruptions. You can do this by turning your phone off or putting it on silent, closing excess computer windows, turning off video games or TVs, using noise-canceling headphones, and putting a “do not disturb” sign on your bedroom or office door. If you can’t seem to eliminate the distractions, consider choosing a different study spot, if possible.
Extra Luxuries to Make the Perfect Study Environment
Now that we’ve covered the fundamentals of an excellent study space, we want to touch on additional suggestions that can take your study sessions to the next level. These recommendations include helpful playlists, comfortable furniture, and an emotionally safe space. While these items aren’t mandatory for a good studying environment, they can help with your overall learning ability.
Create a Playlist for Focusing
Listening to music affects your mood, heart rate, and blood pressure. The correct music can maximize learning and enhance your memory, giving you an extra mental boost while studying. Some of the best music for studying include classical, jazz, lo-fi hip hop, and nature sounds. You’ll want to avoid music with lyrics, commercials or ads, a fast tempo, or anything loud enough to be distracting.
Where to Start
- Amazon Music’s “Scores to Study To” – Amazon has created a playlist for studying that’s designed to relax and calm. This playlist is curated by Amazon’s music experts and includes movie soundtracks that provide ambient and background music to help you study. A snapshot includes songs from “The Lord of the Rings,” “Forrest Gump,” “Oblivion,” “Titanic,” and “Dances with Wolves.”
- Apple Music’s “Study Beats” – Apple Music offers a playlist for studying with slow tempos and smooth beats. This playlist is composed mostly of singles and nature sounds that are regularly updated by editors.
- Spotify’s “Instrumental Study” – Spotify offers an instrumental studying playlist to help students maintain focus and calm. It contains more than 13 hours of music full of peaceful tempos and gentle melodies, and it’s regularly reviewed and updated.
Invest in Ergonomic Furniture and Technology
Ergonomic furniture is designed to lessen the strain or discomfort caused by repetitive motions or awkward positions. Believe it or not, using a standard keyboard strains your wrists and forearms. Anything that causes discomfort can detract from your studying experience, so investing in some ergonomic computer mice, keyboards, or desk chairs could be hugely beneficial.
Where to Start
- Amazon – Amazon is an all-encompassing online retailer that stocks just about everything. You’ll be able to find a variety of ergonomic furniture in the styles and colors you want at an affordable price, all shipped to your home.
- Best Buy – Best Buy is known for its electronics and accessories, so you’ll have a lot of success looking here for ergonomic keyboards, desk chairs, or computer mice. You can make a purchase online or find a store near you so you can handle the products before buying them.
- Overstock – Overstock is one of the best places to find ergonomic office chairs. They offer a variety of products at a variety of prices to fit your budget, all designed for your comfort.
Maintain a Comfortable Room Temperature
Room temperature might not be the first thing on your mind when you think about studying, but it can impact your comfort and ability to focus. A variety of research shows that lower temperatures improve working speed and aid concentration. By lowering the temperature by just a few degrees, you can improve your focus and concentration, as well as avoid any temptation to doze off.
Personalize the Space
A space you’re emotionally comfortable in — not just physically comfortable in — can be helpful. The more emotionally comfortable, the less anxious and stressed you’ll feel, which will allow your mind to focus on studying instead of your discomfort. This can easily be achieved by picking a study space away from stressful people or situations and, if possible, personalizing it with motivational quotes, artwork, plants, candles, or anything else that eases your mind. Below are a few websites to help you get started.
Where to Start
- Etsy – Etsy is an e-commerce website focused on vintage and handmade crafts. It offers a significant amount of home decor and is the perfect place to browse for creative and personalized items for your study space.
- Redbubble – Redbubble is a globalized online marketplace that allows users to purchase art from independent artists. It’s a safe and creative place to find decorations and knick-knacks to personalize your space.
- Society6 – Society6, like Redbubble, focuses on art and home decor created by independent artists. It’s a print-on-demand marketplace, which means you don’t have to wait for physical artwork or decoration to be shipped from individual artists.
Setup Near a Window for Natural Light
If possible, try to set up your study station near a window with plenty of natural light. Natural light improves your mood, helps your body create vitamin D, aids your sleep, benefits your vision, and most importantly, increases your productivity. If you can set up your study space with as much natural light as possible, you’ll be sure to improve your learning, memory, and focus.
Staying Focused in Self-Created Study Spaces
Despite your best efforts to create the perfect study space, distractions will inevitably spring up and break your concentration. How you handle these distractions can greatly enhance your studying experience and prevent exhaustion or burnout. By taking breaks, being consistent, using productivity tools, being accountable, and adjusting your strategies to improve your study sessions, you can make the best of any situation, no matter the setbacks.
Designate a Specific Area for Breaks
Working longer isn’t necessarily better, which is why breaks are so important when you’re studying. Research shows taking breaks allows your body and mind to refresh and re-energize, which will help you return to studying with full focus and productivity. The best breaks are ones that allow you to breathe deeply, move your body, laugh, eat, or talk to a friend. Taking a break outside is one of the best ways to rejuvenate your body and mind, with the bonus of exposure to natural light.
Establish a Consistent Study Routine
Establishing a routine provides consistency and helps you to form healthy habits. Choosing a specific time and place to study will help you reduce the number of decisions you have to make and put your studying on autopilot. Making a routine and scheduling things out makes it easier for you to avoid procrastination, setting you up for better time management.
Implement Self-Accountability Strategies
Studying consistently and effectively can’t be done without personal accountability; simply knowing you need to study doesn’t mean you will. Help yourself be responsible by making goals, creating a schedule, and rewarding yourself for completing tasks. Reflecting often on the outcomes of your study sessions and the progress you’ve made will help you know if your strategies have been effective and allow you to make any necessary changes.
Use Timers and Productivity Apps
Don’t underestimate the power of timers or productivity apps. Productivity apps can be a fantastic way to stay organized, since many of them can track progress and highlight what you still need to accomplish. Meanwhile, timers can help you remember to take breaks, drink water, or move on to a different subject. These apps are best used to plan and organize your studying, as they will probably be more distracting than helpful during your actual study session.
Reflect on Your Progress and Adjust Accordingly
There’s no way to know if these strategies will work for you until you actually try them out. While you may not find every tactic worthwhile, you might be surprised how putting more thought into your study space can significantly boost your productivity. Once you’ve incorporated some new techniques, occasionally reviewing your study strategies and processes will help you fine-tune the things that are working while giving you the chance to change up the things that aren’t.