How many hours a day should I study?

How many hours a day should I study?

💁 A common question I get from students.

“Claire, how many hours should I study per day, or per week?”

“Is it realistic that I study 8 hours a day?”

“How much in advance should I study for my exams and boards?”

Today we will find the answer to those questions while providing some more insight on improving your productivity. 🙌

It is scientifically proven that the brain takes 30% of our energy each day. That means we do reach a limit where our mind is officially in the red, like when your iPhone reaches 20% battery life. It’s important to listen to this – if your brain feels fried, that’s because in that moment, it is. When your mind feels like this, you likely aren’t going to retain much more information. 

In sum, you should plan to study the amount that will not exceed the burnout point of your daily brain capacity.  🧐

I attend a lot of conferences, partly because I like networking, and also because I like to learn. I pack my bag, feel excited about attending the conference, and post gloriously on Facebook “Find me at the American Dental Association conference.” On the first day of the conference, I wake up early, get some breakfast and caffeine (tea more than coffee nowadays), then sit in my 8 am class. I feel good, I am making notes, I use the restroom quickly and head back to class, and then I continue listening and asking questions.  😩

After 15 minutes of mingling afterward, I go to the next class. My motivation has not changed, because I know I paid a lot of money to be here, but in this second class, I start to feel antsy and am taking my phone out more often. After 30 minutes, I am now already bored so I text some friends to meet for lunch. 

Finally, the class ends and I haven’t taken notes after the first 30 minutes of class, so I don’t really remember the rest of the class. And the afternoon? You bet it was even worse than the morning, now with the food coma from lunch, the lack of sunshine, and physical activity – I was just sitting there, pretending that I was listening, bored and unengaged.  😓

Ok, so there’s my big confession – even though I am a memory champion, I don’t remember everything. That’s because I didn’t even pay attention.  🥺

This is exactly what happens when we are trying to sit tight and learn, learn, learn, learn. 

I’ll give you another graphic example. In certain countries, fois gras (fat liver of a duck or goose) is illegal. Why? Because the fat liver involves the controversial process of force-feeding. In this process, humans are forcing food down the neck of the bird to fatten them.

Sounds bad? (yes, of course). It also is to your brain.  🧠

Learning is (almost) the same in theory. Our brains are not designed to sit still and passively continue absorbing all of the good, nutritional learning content that others have designed for us. 

Yes and no: We are providing you with a lot of information to help you pass the exams, but the problem is truly the pace of learning.

We will review how we should pace ourselves to achieve the best results rather than trying to cram a lot of information in a short amount of time. We want to avoid choking on information, and I used the word “choking” because that’s truly how we can feel when we have too much of something, even if it’s supposed to be good for you. ✌️

Think of a runner. Maximum running capacity means something really different depending on the person you are talking to. For instance, if I am running at half your speed, I can promise you, I am still giving you my best (or my maximum running capacity). I’ve always known to be a very slow runner, I was always at the bottom of my class.  🥺

Same idea here for studying – what does maximum capacity of studying mean to you? There is no universal answer such as “ 8 hrs is the perfect amount of time”. For some people, 3 hrs of learning may reach their maximum brain capacity, while for others, 10 hours might be doable. 

👉 There are many factors that determine your maximum brain capacity:

  • Your habits. For example:
    • If you tend to read the news in the morning, you have already used up some of your 30% of brain energy for the day
    • If you are known to be an early riser and study before school, then you may have more bandwidth for your studying than those who study after a full day of school lectures.
  • Your history of performance
    • In my case, I disciplined myself to constantly increase my brain capacity as a teenager. I was competitive and just wanted to give it my best shot, so I experimented with the timing of napping and performance, the length of a study session etc. So I have a long history of trying to thank for my successes.
    • Some of you have more schooling experience than others, this may also indicate your history of performance.
  • Your learning style
    • Some like to write everything down – full sentences and complete detail. Although this method is useful, it takes a lot of time and effort, much more so than making notes using only keywords. In this case, you are burning a lot more of your maximum brain capacity and faster by writing lengthy notes.
  • Use of memory techniques such as WakeUpMemory
    • Memory techniques dramatically reduce the need to repeat learning again and again (this is called rote memory) lessening the burning of your brainpower. A small and simple mnemonic captures everything you need, with the minimum amount of effort.
👉 My recommendations? Experiment. 🤩

Experiment with yourself. Get yourself a timer, and be ready to write down the time where you start to feel inefficient. Research says it’s about 15 minutes, so don’t be afraid to write down 15 minutes – just be honest with yourself. 💪 Then, continue studying for the rest of the day. Keep tracking your progress. At the end of the day, find out:

  • How much time in total did you study? For example, 4 hours
  • How many mini-sessions did you have (before being distracted)? For example, 8 sessions, if you recorded your attention dropping every 30 minutes.
  • How much time in total did you take for breaks? For example, with lunch and dinner, you had 4 hours of breaks total.
  • How many break sessions did you have?

This gives you an idea of how much you can do, per day. The end goal is to achieve longer periods of study with no interruptions. 🤩

According to research, the following happens with long lectures and studying periods:

  • For the first 10-18 minutes, we have optimal focus.
  • We then “lose it” no matter how spectacular the teacher or learner is.
  • The focus is back up for 2-4 minutes towards the end. 

Many other types of research show similar findings. The bottom line is, by the 15-minute mark, we are beginning “zoning out.” Keeping your study sessions short will help to prevent this.  👆

For you, 4 hours of focused studying makes sense, with 8 breaks in total. It’s ok if you don’t see a solid 8 hours a day schedule. Honor who you are!

In all honestly, even if some people say they study 10 hours a day, that 10 hours may not really be 10 hours of focus. As you can see in the example of me attending the conference with all-day lectures, I was mentally checked out by the second course. This is normal, so don’t beat yourself up. (Or am I trying to make myself feel better?) 😮

In life, there will never be a “one-size-fits-all” answer. It all depends on the special person you are. 💪 So please don’t try to adopt someone else’s plan and “choke” on your learning. If it feels like too much, it probably is. You want a healthy relationship with your studying style.

Be ready to extend your original study plan to be over double your original plan. If you thought it would take you 1 month to prepare for the boards, plan for 2 months. Again, this is because you are now being realistic with your brain, and preventing burnout while improving the quality of your work. 🙏

My message has been the same for any students who have used my coaching or educational programs. You can achieve anything you want in life. Your power is not just about what’s in your brain, it’s also about how much of a good person and professional you are. So let’s work with the reality that our brain has a daily capacity. 🙌

Remember, the 30% maximum brain capacity is really different for Bill Gates compared to us, but that’s ok! Know yourself and continuously try to slow down that “brain burn” by adopting short study sessions spread throughout the day (rather than a strict 8-5 schedule). Also, find the time when your body and mind like to focus – we are all different! Lastly, try memory techniques at WakeUpMemory™, I can promise you will see a boost in your capacity. 🤝


Related Article: Student Dina Magdy: Tips for the NBDHE!

(Disclaimer: StudentRDH is NOT affiliated with the NBDHE, NDHCE, CSCE, CDCA, WREB.)

Written by
Claire Jeong, RDH, MS

Follow @studentrdh

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