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how to study

Your Study Environment

Deciding on the Where

If you haven’t already done so, you need to decide exactly where it is that you intend to carry out your studies. The place it’s all going to happen.

You might think this decision is pretty unimportant in the grand scheme of things – after all, as long as there is a desk and chair you’ve got everything you need, right?


Studying in the right environment, one conducive to good study, can make all the difference between a pass and a fail. It’s that simple. So you need to make sure you get it right. What should you be doing to ensure you get it right, what should you be looking for?

The Ideal Environment

What are the characteristics of the ideal study environment? I’d say they include


There should be a lack of any significant background noise. I’m not talking a monk’s cell here, but the quieter, the better. Working on the kitchen table whilst your family eat their evening meal and watch TV does not fall into this category.

Free from Interruptions

Ideally, the likelihood of you being disturbed should be minimal. So working next to the telephone should be avoided (or at least put the answerphone on if this is the only place you can find), as should having your mobile phone with you if it’s switched on. And make sure your family or housemates understand that you are not to be disturbed for anything other than the direst of emergencies.

Well Lit

You need to be able to see what you are doing without straining your  eyes. Avoid low lighting and conversely bright lighting if that causes dark shadows to fall across your work area. You should aim for an all round bright but diffuse light. If you can make it daylight as opposed to artificial light that would be great, although I realise this may not be possible, particularly during the winter months.


But not too warm. The ideal temperature is between 67°F–73°F (19.4°C–22.8°C) – anything over this is likely to be too warm and after a long day at work and/or a heavy meal you’re likely to find yourself falling asleep at your desk. Make it too cold on the other hand and for sure you’ll be awake, but too busy noticing the extremities of your body getting cold to concentrate fully on the work in hand.

Ergonomic and Comfortable

You need a desk at a comfortable height and a chair which is comfortable but upright. The desk and/or chair should ideally be adjustable to allow you to maintain an ideal working position (if not, adjust the desk height by using blocks under the legs). The best position is one where the angle between trunk and thighs is at least 90 degrees and where the upper arms can be kept vertical, the forearms horizontal and the hands at the level of the elbows. In addition to getting the ergonomics right, there should also be sufficient space on the desk to hold all of your study equipment and materials.


All in all, your study environment needs to be conducive to maximum concentration. The greater the focus you can place on the work at hand, and the less your mind is distracted by things around you, the better for your studies.

One Place or Many?

A Bit of Lateral Thinking

Don’t assume that you have to nominate one place where you’ll study and one place only. Think laterally here. There may be a number of places that you can combine for best effect.

For example, maybe you travel to work every day on the train. Many of us commute to work in this way, and our train journeys might take anything from 20 minutes to 2 hours. What do you normally do during this time? Read the newspaper? Sleep? Browse a trashy novel? Send text messages to your friends? Why not use some of this time for study instead?

Match the Work to the Place

Clearly you’ll need to tailor the type of work you’re doing to the place you’re doing it in. Unless you’re lucky enough to be travelling on a train where there are tables between the seats (often not the case on the usual commuter routes, as this reduces the number of passengers that can be shoe-horned into a carriage), you’re not going to be able to sit and write notes or answer practice questions.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t spend the time wisely by reading the next chapter of your textbook, or reviewing notes you’ve already made. Or perhaps your examiner expects you to keep abreast of current events in your chosen field, for example the latest exposure drafts, discussion documents or “white papers”,  in which case you could be reading these.

Short and Sweet - Wherever Possible

When it comes to the length of study periods, little and often is best. In other words, frequent short study periods rather than infrequent lengthy ones. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a study session of only ten minutes, other than your misconceptions that it’s not possible to study properly unless you’re putting in the long hours.

So review your average day – where are there gaps you can fill with short bursts of study? Maybe you’ve ten minutes waiting at the bus stop in the morning. Fine, use this to your advantage. Maybe you can find a quiet area in the office during your lunch break to sit and study. If you can, great, make it so.

Of course, some of these places aren’t going to fulfil all the criteria of the ideal environment to study in. But that’s not a problem – these other places should be in addition to your main place of study, not a replacement for it. You still need a place which you do the majority of your work in, a place which does fit these criteria as closely as possible.

Primary Study Place - Alternatives

That place is most likely to be at your home, but do bear in mind that this is not set in stone. Maybe your parents’ house would be quieter. Maybe your friend’s house is always empty during the evenings because they work shifts, and they’re happy for you to make use of it in their absence. Or maybe your local library would be the ideal place for you to work – they often have areas set aside for quiet study which will not only be well lit, quiet, warm, and comfortable but also free!


So the moral of the story is think laterally and be creative when it comes to identifying your place (or places) of study. Getting the right environment to carry out your studies in really is worth spending a few moments considering. Make the right choices and you’ll ensure you’re getting the best out of your study sessions.