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You’re not really studying.

That’s one of the most important points the average student needs to learn to see their grades skyrocket.

It’s one of the fundamental reasons this blog exists.

Sitting down with your textbook and reading isn’t studying. Texting a friend and going over your notes is not studying. Sitting down and dreaming about unicorns and wondering whether or not their manure smells like candy canes (I choose to believe it does,) is not studying. Randomly learning facts from your class is still not even studying.

Sure… all of these activities look an awful lot like studying in practice. They have school material that, to some extent, is being learned but they should not be put in the category of studying.

Whenever I hear a student say something like “I study 2 hours a night,” I can almost guarantee they’re categorizing, “kind of studying” with studying. They might sit with their notes a couple hours a night but their brain is pretty much always invested in something else.

This might seem like a minor problem but it turns into a huge one. These “kind of” studying routines drag students in. They’re ineffective and inefficient. An hour of studying while distracted could usually be replaced with a mere 5 minutes of deeply focused studying. But students drag themselves through hour long masochistic study schedules that just make them less interested in learning the material.

If you’re in one of these situations then quit pretending you’re studying:

You’re Distracted

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Studying is not something that can be multitasked. It requires your brain to be intensely focused on the material. The more senses you can involve in studying, the faster you’re going to learn the material that you need to learn. Minor distractions like music in the background are slowing your study routine down. There are much worse distractions to watch out for though.

Intermittent distractions like texting back and forth with another person is a huge distraction. Every time you stop focusing on the study material, you’re not studying. More importantly, you’re taking your brain off of studying completely. When your brain reads a text from a friend, it needs to get coerced into looking back at your study material. It needs to do this while it consistently gets pulled away from that studying.

Most students that are really studying instantly notice this difference. You will suffer immensely if you try to text while you’re actually studying. Actual studying is brain intensive. Leaving the subject and coming back to it is difficult. Not only should you not study while having a conversation but when you’re studying properly, it’s unlikely you would even want to have a conversation with someone unrelated to the study material. I give myself a headache just thinking about it.

You’re Not Recalling

Studying needs to be focused heavily on remembering information. No… it can’t be focused on reading information. It can’t be focused on listening to information. It can’t be focused on feeling the information by holding the textbook to the sky and using your psychic energy to induce a lighting bolt to strike the information into your brain. Information needs to be recalled.

Studying needs some basic review of information but the more of it that’s focused on recalling the information you reviewed, the better that study routine is going to work. Many students try to get away with study routines that have absolutely no focus on recall. They read through their textbook (while regularly distracting themselves with more interesting stuff,) and they expect that their recall will work come test time.

Recall is the most important part of studying because it’s ensuring that the studying you actually are doing is working. Without it you cannot be sure you’re prepared for a test on the material. For more advice on using recall you should read 9 Reasons Your Memory Sucks.

You’re Studying Because You “Have To”

One of the biggest causes of “kind of” studying is this.

Students regularly end up studying because they “have to” study or at least feel like they have to study. Students are taught that long periods of studying are required to be good students. They’re taught that those long study session will ensure they do better in life. They’re taught those long study sessions make them into smart people. One of the strangest things I’ve learned in life is that some of the smartest people I know tend to study the least in a traditional sense.

When you “have to” sit down and study for a full hour long session, I can’t blame you for bringing a phone to text friends. I understand not using recall. Using the traditional study narrative, it’s virtually impossible to stay focused all session long. Even if you did succeed, you’re going to be damn exhausted after doing it.

Most students sitting down to study because they “have to” are just going through the motions. (It’s like they choose to move into a trailer because they want to be an actor. It doesn’t work quite like that.) By sitting down and pretending to study they can alleviate this have to but it doesn’t help with the underlying goals.

Studying is a tool to get where you want to go. It’s not the destination.

You Don’t Have Priorities

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You can’t study everything that you’re exposed to for school. 95% of what you are taught in a class is never going to be found on a test.

If you knew exactly what questions were on the test then you’d have to spend virtually no time studying to get a killer grade. If you have no clues to what is going to end up on the test then you would likely struggle. In the typical class it would be impossible to get a high score consistently.

In reality, most classes give countless clues to what information is going to end up on the test. Teachers virtually give away their tests in advance with the information they provide.

Some teachers give handouts that say what to study. Other teachers emphasize important points excessively. Some teachers give similar less important tests in advance. Some teachers get stuck in patterns of asking the same questions. In virtually every situation, you can rule out 75% of the potential study information.

When you eliminate unnecessary study material, you dramatically increase the value of your study time. Instead of having to spread your energy throughout thousands of key points you can focus on the absolute must know information. That must know information will have significantly more time invested in learning it and will make recall much more natural.

In another way of saying it: one time a student told me they were studying for a class they were taking during the next semester. I asked how they knew what they needed to study. The student couldn’t answer and eventually admitted they were winging it. Now… that student was definitely studying but that student was definitely not studying for that class.

Studying requires priorities because otherwise, anything you do could be defined as studying. Learning useless information is not studying. When it comes to priorities you should also consider: Priority One: Pleasing Yourself.

Don’t get caught up in this pretend studying. If you’re not fully studying then don’t waste your time trying to convince yourself that you are. Study time should be exclusive. Non-study time shouldn’t be wasted pretending to study. When you can draw a clear line between study time and everything else, school gets dramatically easier.

I used to score mediocre to low grades studying around an hour a night. It wasn’t until I actually studied hard for less than 20 minutes a night that my grades started to skyrocket. This was mostly because I gave up the illusion that acting like I’m studying is the same thing as studying. Going through the motions may make your parents happy you’re working hard but it won’t improve your grades and it certainly won’t improve your life.

Do you want to know how to study in less than 15 minutes a night? That’s what this blog is all about. Be sure to follow and check out the archives for all the details. Be sure to check out the ebooks in the sidebar if that’s your thing too!

How To Tell You’re Not Really Studying

Leave Procrastination In The Dust! Never EVER let it stop you again.

Doing stuff is easy – sometimes, right?

You only procrastinate the stuff that sucks. You don’t say, “Ahhh… I’ll read that text from my crush later.” Nope. Now… Any pause is intentional and coordinated to respond better.

Here is the problem with academics:

You probably think most academic stuff sucks – at least a little. (Especially compared to other things you could be doing.)

And the thing is:


You’re slowly hardening your association of school and being miserable.

You need to create positive associations with academics. You want your brain to be getting hyped  up and positive when you’re thinking about studying and giving into this internal oligarchical instinct to force yourself to studying – ain’t helpin’.

Chill the internal dictator for a moment…

A big secret: You need to STOP forcing yourself to study so much.

But, if you’re not forcing yourself then how are you going to see those killer straight-a’s that you’re always pining over?

It’s not difficult but it can sound weird to unfamiliar eyes.

Get your copy of my book about How To Get Happier Straight A’s.

It only costs $4.99 (and if these strategies don’t work like magic like it has for thousands of other students then you can get a full refund.)

Click Here To Buy Your Copy


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14 thoughts on “How To Tell You’re Not Really Studying

  • April 26, 2021 at 6:35 pm

    I could not resist commenting. Exceptionally well written!

  • December 25, 2019 at 4:05 pm

    It’s really a nice and helpful piece of info. I’m satisfied that you simply shared this useful information with us. Please keep us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

  • February 18, 2019 at 10:24 pm

    some times its a pain in the ass to read what blog owners wrote but this site is really user friendly! .

  • February 2, 2016 at 11:36 am

    Helpful for everyone better post.

  • January 29, 2016 at 4:07 pm

    The students should fine-tune their study areas. Every resource needed to achieve a productive study session must be at the reach of their hands. The area should have appropriate illumination and should be noise free. These factors may not seem to be important but they are!

  • January 22, 2016 at 9:59 pm

    I think it is certainly true that it is easy to “pretend study” when you are really just procrastinating with your books open. But s a person with a limited attention span I found one good way around it is a version of the Pomodoro technique where you regiment on and off task time into proscribed periods–it means I do not have to try and study for long periods (I just can’t) but I also know how much of my time was actually spent studying.

  • January 22, 2016 at 2:24 pm

    well, That’s make senses. We should be apart from distraction, and the this helps us out to concentrate softly in out interest things that are vital importancy for us. focussing in interesting things for us that we are longing for.

    • March 1, 2016 at 2:45 pm

      That’s a cunning answer to a chaenlngilg question

  • January 21, 2016 at 2:19 pm

    These are really useful! You are totally right about remembering and knowing information is all about how well you can recall information from the depths of your brain. A couple other tips are sitting in the same seat during every lecture of class, and chewing the same flavor gum when in class, studying, and during tests. If you are one of those lucky people who can use music as background noise then listen to the same album on repeat.

    The brain is amazing as soon as you see something once it is inside your head but it takes a minimum of three times for us to be able to recall it consciously!

    Best of luck studying as this semester gets underway!

  • January 21, 2016 at 11:41 am

    This is a great article and I agree completely with you. I have a question though; most of the time students have to study, because no student actually wants to study, so how do students avoid that and sit down to actually study and make that 1 or 2 hour session productive?
    The best thing about this article was that you got to the point and didn’t blame students for how they study. Keep up the good work! 🙂

  • January 19, 2016 at 9:49 pm

    As you mention studying is all about how to recall information. There are a couple things you can do to help your brain while trying to recall information. Sit in the exact same seat in class. Being in the same environment can help you recall information. Chewing the same flavor of gun is a big one, and one I use regularly. When you start to study pop a brand new piece of spearmint in then on the day of exam as you walk into class have some spearmint gum to chew. If you listen to music and study always listen to the same album when reading a textbook. Anything you can do to put your mind in a situation it has already been in will make a huge difference on how well you recall information.

  • January 19, 2016 at 6:57 pm


    I can’t believe how much I love this post. So many of my friends wonder how I do so well on tests, but don’t study the 4 hours they do the night before! All because they’re constantly on social media, texting, and googling Ryan Reynolds’ abs while they should be studying. I would guesstimate that when students are actually “studying” it’s probably something like
    33% checking all social media accounts
    33% deciding what your next ringtone should be
    20% skimming your notes
    4% actual studying
    10% talking with your friends.

    It’s all about focusing on one thing at a time, and even though it’s boring, studying needs to be one of those “one thing at a time” things!

  • January 18, 2016 at 9:36 pm

    Great tips for students who aims for high grades. They really need to read this as most of them remain to believe on those myths of studying which will never give them any help as it only waste their most valuable time.


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