It’s getting close to midterm time. You’re tired. You’re stressed. You have so much work ahead of you. It’s getting dark and cold out (or warm and sunny as we head toward summer). You’re tired of studying. You need to increase your motivation to study!

We’ve all been there. First, please don’t be hard on yourself. Being a student is hard. It’s stressful! A lot is being asked of you. Depending on where you are and when you’re reading this, you may still be dealing with a pandemic. But even at the best of times, student life can be overwhelming.

Here are my top 7 tips for increasing study motivation

  • Break it into pieces
  • Make a ta-da! list instead of a to-do list
  • Focus on the end goal
  • Take time to celebrate
  • Take a break
  • Study with friends
  • Find new ways to study

Study With Friends

Accountability groups and study groups are wonderful for increasing study motivation, especially if you are an obliger like me, which means I tend to be more accountable to other people or external sources. When you are in a study group, you are very likely to show up and do work during that time because there are other folks there doing the same thing.

Your university may offer study groups. I have been in one writing group and one productivity group (both online) since I started my PhD and I find them really helpful for keeping me on track. I am also in a group with some other PhD students where we just send each other a WhatsApp message when we start working to see if anybody else wants to join the Zoom meeting. Sometimes this will prompt me to start studying, and having someone else there keeps me accountable.

You can organize these groups however you like, but at the ones I go to, we check-in every hour or so and set goals. At the end of the hour, we say what we accomplished on our goal and whether we’re going to continue or not. One of the groups I’m in does 40-minute pomodors with a break in the middle. You can find a group organized by your university, or you can organize one yourself, but studying together can definitely help increase study motiviation.

Break it Into Pieces

Break your homework/studying into the smallest, tiniest pieces and just do one tiny thing at a time. Each tiny thing can remind you that you are super-capable and smart, and encourage you to do the next tiny thing. And if not, at least your to-do list will be less overwhelming than one with items like “write a 20 page paper” and “study 17 chapters.”

What will this look like? When you have to write a paper, you’re going to build all the steps. This will also help you to plan out your time because you can map them out before the due date.

If you have to write a paper for a history or English (or other social sciences course), it might look like this:

  • Pick a broad paper topic
  • Scan the research on that topic
  • Refine your topic (narrow it based on available research)
  • Do a literature review and organize it into an outline
  • Outline your conclusions from your research
  • Turn your outline into a paper (this may take multiple to-do list items)
  • Review and refine your paper (you can also do this in several steps)

Similarly, when you are studying for an exam, you can break it down into chapters or topics and then sections of each chapter or sub-topics.

Although this will give you a much longer to-do list, each item on that list will be much smaller and less overwhelming. Plus, this gives you a much clearer outline of what actually has to be done.

Focus on The End Goal

Remind yourself of your end-goal. At the end, you get a degree! I assume that degree will get you into your desired career! Think about that. Remind yourself why you’re at university – you are growing your brain so you can have an awesome career.

If you like to make art, you could build a vision board about your future life, including the career that you are working towards. This doesn’t have to be something specific, like “doctor” or “accountant.” You can look for images that capture the vibe of your ideal work place. Do you work with people or not? If so, are they adults or children? Do you have a big office, or work outdoors, or in some other setting?

If a vision board is not your jam, just use a sticky note or cue-card. Write something on it that reminds you of your end-goal. Something like “full-time work to move out of mom’s basement,” “$100K and 6 weeks vacation.”

One of the reasons I wanted to return to uni and do my PhD was so that I could do research and read and write all day, so I could write that out, or put a picture with a desk and a lot of books on my vision board. I like to make collages, so chose the vision-board option.

Take Time to Celebrate

Celebrate your wins.: The end of every semester (no matter your grades). Finishing that paper or exam. Getting the good grades, or the times you passed when you weren’t sure you would. Celebrate alone or with friends and family. Celebrate with a treat, or a day off, or champagne and sparklers – whatever will help you acknowledge that you’re accomplishing things and making moves towards your big goal!

Getting a degree is a process of completing so many smaller things: semesters, courses, assignments, readings. You’re also building your career, so you’re gaining work experience, adding references to your resume, discovering what your skills are and how to best communicate them to employers. But doing all of this takes a long time, so it can feel like you’re not getting anywhere. This is why it’s so important to acknowldege and celebrate all of the mini-accomplishments within your degree. Seeing and celebrating all the steps you’ve taken so far can remind you how far you’ve come, which can also increase your motivation to study.

Take a Break

I have posted a lot about this. Sometimes you just need a break! If you’re feeling tired and burnt out, you may just need a day off. I know it can be hard to justify a day off in the busiest times of the semester, but you need to weigh the impact of NOT taking a day off on your ability to learn. It may be that a break is just what you need to increase your study motivation when you come back to it.

Make a Ta-da! List Instead of a to-do List

When I feel like I haven’t gotten anything done, I like to make a ta-da! list. This is the OPPOSITE of a to-do list: instead of writing down things you should do, write down EVERY SINGLE THING YOU ACCOMPLISHED TODAY.

  • made bed
  • showered
  • brushed teeth
  • walked dog
  • did laundry
  • emptied and reloaded dishwasher
  • ate a healthy breakfast
  • read one article for history class
  • reviewed two chapters for biology
  • made a dentist appointment

This helps to remind me that even if I’m not the best at studying today, I am doing great at life and I have clean laundry. As students, we have a lot on our plates outside of studying, too, and it’s important to remember that.

Find New Ways to Study

Finally, try to vary your study methods to increase your study motivation. If your study methods are effective and you know that you are learning and improving, you’ll be much more motivated to continue. I have shared some of my top recommended study methods in this post, and I regularly post and re-post study tips on my social (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Quora). You can also find other studygrams, or look for solutions on sites like Reddit and Quora, or just use Google to see how others study.

Your university is also very likely to offer supports for study skills, either through the library or student services. Make sure you see what they have to offer – they may be able to sit down with you and talk about the challenges you have and offer individualized solutions.

Other Tips to Increase Study Motivation

  • Eliminate distractions. Put your phone away so you can accomplish more during your study time.
  • Gamify your study time. There are loads of study apps where you can earn points for studying, or build things (growing trees, feeding digital pets, etc). Check out what’s out there and find something fun!

How do you increase study motivation?