It’s a question everyone has asked themselves — am I underprepared or overprepared?

Whether it’s a looming end-of-semester test, a driver’s license assessment, or even just a weekly quiz, we’ve all struggled to determine if our study process is where it needs to be.

Am I doing enough, or am I overexerting? Is it possible to over-study?

To answer the common question, yes, you can overstudy. Overstudying, or studying to the point of exhaustion, can lead to diminishing returns and actually impede learning rather than enhance it.

Keep reading to understand the intricacies of studying effectively and the importance of balance.


Balance: Easier Said Than Done

The sentiment that balance is the key to success rings true. Those who can balance productivity and rest or monotony and creativity must have some sort of key to the universe of success, right?

A frustrated person with their head down on top of a computer while holding coffee.

The reality is that everyone’s balancing scale looks different. Some of us thrive in an environment where we can plan our every move out ahead of time, while others either prefer to or simply can’t map out their every move in advance.

Whatever your method of madness is, the most important thing to possess is self-awareness. The only person who knows your habits and your needs best is yourself.

Regularly Assess Your Current Situation 

Figuring out whether you’re spending too much of your time studying comes down to comparing two key things: the quality of your time spent studying and the ensuing measurement of success, such as passing a quiz, test, or course.

Before creating a study plan of attack, ask yourself the following questions to make sure you’re assessing your priorities and capacity in all the right areas:

1. When are you at your peak mental capacity?

Are you a morning person, or a night owl? If you’re the type of person who can’t talk to another person before a cup of coffee or two, you may not be a morning studier. If you’re a raging night owl, be reasonable and give yourself a cut-off time that allows you to keep to a regular sleeping schedule. Studying at the wrong time of day when your brain is not in a learning-ready mode can negatively impact the quality of your study session.

2. How challenging is the material you’re studying? 

According to Casper College, the five most challenging subjects in college are organic chemistry, quantum physics, calculus, human anatomy, and thermodynamics. Studying for a calculus class is going to require much heavier study loads than, say, a biology or business class. Another element to assess is your personal familiarity with the subject. Do you already have a fair amount of knowledge in this area, or is this your first rodeo? The more challenging the subject, the more time you need to dedicate to it.

3. What are the methods of learning that work best for you?

What type of learner are you? Do you enjoy listening to informative podcasts or YouTube videos? If so, consider finding some multimedia study tools that deviate from the traditional textbook style. This will help break up your study formats so you are using multiple senses and not getting burned out on just one method. Plus, it will cut back on the need for reading your textbook over and over again.

4. How many hours per week can you reasonably commit to studying? 

What’s your daily work or at-home care schedule like? Pinpoint the exact times throughout your week that you will have some free time, even if it’s just for a single 30-minute period. Once you pinpoint some blocks of time, start to break down how much of that block you would be comfortable committing to studying. You should never fill more than 50% of your free time with studying. You need regular breaks.

All of your answers to these questions should be taken into account while determining what the right amount of studying is for you.

Forget the 2:1 Study Ratio and Create Your Own 

There is a general rule of thumb in higher education that many professors have advised their students of in how much time you should spend studying:

For every 1 hour you spend in a class, you should spend 2 hours studying.

Here’s why that ratio doesn’t work for everyone. First, it was likely created decades ago, long before online learning and advanced technology made its way into almost every classroom. Second, it doesn’t account for the many different factors listed above, such as your familiarity with a topic already and your personally preferred methods of learning.

Instead of using it as the be-all solution, simply refer to it as a starting point to create your own ratio. Assess the four elements listed above and map out how many hours per week you should be studying for a particular exam or course. Then, choose your study resources wisely.

Diversify your learning methods into different formats so you can listen to a podcast on the go, do some practice questions on an app like Pocket Prep when you’re bored, and leave the textbook reading for at home.

Signs You’re Overstudying 

Accidentally overextending ourselves can often be a bit too easy to do. We get passionate in the moment and forget to take a step back and look at the larger picture.

True or false: For every 1 hour you spend in a class, you should spend 2 hours studying.

If you find yourself excessively cramming in the day or two before a big exam, that’s either a sign you didn’t put the proper planning towards the task previously, or, your anxiousness is throwing you into a state of panic and you’re trying to ensure you’re doing everything you can to be prepared.

It’s important to assess the difference between proper preparation and natural emotional response. Humans are imperfect beings. We can let our emotions overtake logic in high-pressure situations and convince ourselves that we haven’t done enough when in fact we have. It’s important to give yourself proper credit while at the same time regularly assessing if you can make room for improvement.

Here are some specific signs you may be overexerting yourself while studying:

  • Your sleep schedule is extremely varied. If you find yourself going to bed at 9pm some nights and 2am at other times, or you wake up early at 6-7am some days and 10-11am on others, it’s time to get control of your schedule. Consistency is key. Aim for a specific goal and stick with it.
  • You feel physically and mentally lethargic. Your energy is way down and you can’t get your motivation back up. This is a sign you’re exhausted and need to take some time for self-care and sprinkle in meaningful mental breaks into your schedule.
  • You’re spending more than half your free time studying. Balancing your schedule to leave in time for your normal life is important. Those bursts of normalcy, such as getting lunch with a friend or evening doing a load of laundry are important to keep your mental state sharp and balanced.
  • You’re not seeing positive performance results. If you find yourself passing a quiz or test by the skin of your teeth regularly, your study regimen needs a reassessment. Measure your success at multiple points. Never let one bad test or experience compromise all the hard work you’ve been doing. We all have our moments of failure. Instead, take a look at your performance wholistically and pinpoint trends.

Balance, Reassess, Repeat

As with many things in life, reassessing our methods frequently is a key to success. The same methods we used years ago may not be the methods that work for us today. Your needs will change over time, and how you pivot to cater to those changes will determine your success.

Connect with a classmate, a colleague, or even a professor to have a discussion on what a successful study regimen looks like. Whatever path you decide to go down, you have the power to make it truly your own and to build your own story.