Location, location, location. Finding the perfect study environment

Updated: Jun 18, 2020

By Hithin Noble


With two years of Medical School under my belt, one thing I’ve learnt is that my bedroom is no place to study. Give me five minutes at my desk and I’ll be snuggled under a blanket- like a hibernating hedgehog- watching a YouTube video on how Despacito was made. There was even a point when I had convinced myself that studying from my bed was a good idea. In hindsight, even the sound of that doesn’t seem promising. I would press play on that lecture and wake up the next minute wondering whether I had just switched places with Sleeping Beauty.

In fact, where I study best is the library. I love it. I have spent more hours in the library last year than I did in my own student home. I am addicted to the routine of it all. Waking up and sleepwalking into the shower- ensuring I get there before the usual morning rush from my housemates. Walking through the park on my way to Uni, navigating myself through the army of pigeons. Occasionally treating myself to a caramel latte from Starbucks and feeling bougie walking down the street with it. After all that, I would take my seat at the library, open my laptop, put my headphones in and get to work.

At Manchester, we are fortunate to have plenty of libraries to study in. I will give you a quick run through of my favourites*:

- Alan Gilberts Learning Common (A.K.A- the Ali G)- the library that never sleeps. Open 24hrs a day, and 7 days a week- the Ali G is like the guy with the sharpest fade at school. Recently opened, it bolsters countless study rooms, fancy furniture and sleeping pods- to name a few of its features.

- Stopford Library- library for the healthcare sciences. Filled with all the textbooks you could ever need, as well as the spirits of past medical students.

- University Main Library- you could describe this as the ‘Big Mac’ of the libraries. It’s huge and a maze to get around. Legend has it that there are people still trying to find their way out.

- The John Rylands Library- genuinely looks like Hogwarts. This library is just architecturally brilliant and steeped in fascinating history.

*Never thought I would be that guy to have a favourite library, but you know what, I’m going to embrace it.

The library environment isn’t perfect though. It can certainly be a place for distraction. Medical school is a bubble, and with Manchester possessing the largest cohort in the country- this couldn’t apply more. People are just so friendly and approachable. You are bound to bump into someone at the library- it is easy to get engrossed in chats, but one chat becomes 10, and before you know it- it’s time to go home. Also, group studying can sometimes not be as effective as it sounds. Those study rooms can turn into potluck dinners and long conversations planning your next night out. But, it’s not just people. I get too easily distracted by myself. Thirty minutes into my study session and I would lose focus and stare aimlessly into space- wondering why the person next to me, out of all the chocolates, chose to have a Bounty. What I am trying to say is that there are downsides to every study option, but you need to be disciplined, focused and also hard working, especially with a course like medicine. I know this is easier said than done, but like all good things, it takes practice and patience.

I soon realised that the flaws I had found with working in the library could be flipped into ways that I could boost my productivity. I now work for 45 minutes stints, and then have 15 minutes to go have aimless chats with people, flick through Instagram or even stretch my legs and go for a walk. I allow myself to get distracted during this time, essentially telling my brain to reboot and be ready to go again soon. By doing this, I find that I’m able to retain information more easily. Even when I am not working, I am subconsciously thinking about what I had just learnt.

Furthermore, what really keeps my motivated during a day of revision is writing a checklist of what I need to do in the day. Knowing me, the pure frustration I will have with myself with not completing this list, is all the motivation I need to power through those lectures. This enables me to truly enjoy what I am learning. I love studying medicine, and the holistic approach of a PBL- based course allows me to plan a study day where I am revising many different topics. I will be doing anatomy for one hour and exploring psychological theories in another. This flexibility really keeps me on my toes, and certainly makes me feel gratified after a hard day’s work. Moreover, by planning your day, you find yourself having more time to engage in hobbies and socialise, or even read ahead and truly get on top of the semester.

Finally, your friends don’t necessarily have to be a distraction. They are as valuable to me as if I was learning from a textbook. Being in a library full of medical students, there is always bound to be someone that knows an answer to that lecture slide you didn’t understand. Everyone is willing to help, share notes, and ultimately work together as a collective and this certainly is a wonderful learning environment to be part of. Additionally, a great way to study is actually teaching one another. Not only does this help you fill gaps in your own knowledge, but the fact you are able to teach others is evidence that you have effectively understood and retained the information.

This worked for me. Just like what my ' How Nandos helped me with medical school' article said, find what truly is effective for you, and I wish you all the best for your future studies in medical school.

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