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It is almost a year since countries around the world encountered the threat of COVID infection. In March 2020, most states around the globe announced their first quarantine and lockdown policies to counteract the spread of the virus. Well, it has almost been a year, and the COVID situation has not gone away. So far, both the damage from the crisis and from governmental responses to it has been a disaster on many fronts. One aspect of our lives that took the hit from COVID, has been education. In March 2020 when the first lockdowns were implemented, many schools have been suspended. Children were promised online substitutes for their regular classes, but the efforts to establish a remote learning platform have been haphazard and improvised. The success of such an initiative varied not only from country to country but from school to school. While some schools quickly organized the learning process, others struggled with basics, like internet connection, digital literacy of teachers, and translating teaching practices into the online format. Even when the schools were up to par with the challenge, many students in rural areas could not be reached [1]. Huge amount of children lacked internet connection or any device to access school platforms [2]. Many teachers admit great difficulties in maintaining the discipline and children’s focus during the online classes, and they simplified the material as much as they could just to get the basic things across [3]. Everybody hoped that it was a temporary thing and that when classes resume in autumn, they would catch up and patch the knowledge holes. According to UN and Eurocomission estimates, just several months of lockdown and “online education” during March-May 2020 caused tremendous learning loss and deepened knowledge disparities among rich and poor students [4]. McKinsey and Co estimated that these disparities would lead to earning disparities and income loss up to 18% that could last for a lifetime [5]. Many previous experiments on online education point to the fact that students from poor neighborhoods, low-income families, and minoroties are disproportionately negatively affected by the shift towards online education [6, 7, 8, 9]. So if you belong to this category, you are in double trouble.

And those estimates were done just based on the suspension of in-person schooling in March-May 2020. And now, we’re already a year into this disaster with education. Around the world, schools open and then they close within a week or two because a child or two were diagnosed with COVID, then they reopen for a few weeks just to be closed again. Students jump between in-person and “remote” education, and the percentage of students who manage to keep track of their educational program among this chaos is steadily diminishing. Now many parents have lost motivation or ability to help their children keep up with their studies, struggling to keep their jobs or finding money for the next mortgage payment or evening meal [3]. The student’s motivation also falls as they are overtaken with more urgent stressors of health and family well-being and don’t have time and energy to organize themselves for self-study. The quality of education, along with the prospects of students coming from low-income neighborhoods, is falling drastically. It’s evident that students are left to their own devices and need to take control of their education process. As students are jumping from in-person classes to online classes and back, their access to consistent teacher support and supervision is getting more restricted. That means that we as students need to do our best to self-organize for study and look for additional resources that could patch the gaps in our understanding of the subjects. If you have Internet access and your own computer or phone to work on, you can do a lot to help yourself in this Wild West situation. In this article, we offer several tips to keep you motivated.

1.    Create a little routine around study time

This tip is here to help you create a habit of daily studying. When you sit at home worrying about your family’s health, overridden by fear and anxiety, it’s very hard to put studying into top priorities. You keep postponing those online tasks until the very last moment. And then, you are tempted to skip study sessions altogether explaining it away with a poor internet connection or whatever. While it’s a tempting thing at the moment, if you reflect at least a little bit, you know that such a strategy will lead to a disaster. One concept that you do not understand today will become a basis for the next concept tomorrow. If you miss enough of the classes, you will find yourself completely at loss and unable to understand the material. 

Therefore, it is essential that you study a little bit every day. Not to make it willpower struggle every time, you need to create a habit of studying. Set specific cues that will signal to your brain that it’s a time for study. Those could be the end of your exercise routine, or you tidying up the desk, making yourself a cup of tea or coffee while opening your laptop. In short, come up with some sequence of actions that you repeat every time you sit down to study. If you do this sequence of actions enough times, the brain will learn that this routine signals a study time and will be less resistant to the whole idea. You can read more on how to form habits in the book of Charles Duhigg [10].

To create a study routine, it helps to set a particular time every day which you decide to dedicate to the study session. Usually, it is advised to have this learning time in the morning while you are still full with determination and willpower. Although, if you need some time to wake up and ease up into your day, you can set your study time around noon. While evening hours work for some, very often people tend to skip evening study sessions because they are already tired or have other things to do. If you have set times for group conferences set by your school, this organizational aspect is already taken care of. 


Then, create a reward for your study time. Decide that for every study session, for every hour of dedicated study time you are going to reward yourself with something that is pleasant to you. What can it be? Watching an episode of your favorite TV show (this time it will be guilt-free as you’ve earned it!), calling a friend, doing your favorite activity like playing guitar or dancing or whatever it is that you fancy. Be careful not to make food your reward as it may backfire in the future with health problems (if we reward ourselves with too many sweets throughout the day, we can become lazy and sluggish and even increase our chances of metabolic dysfunction or chronic disease). 

Sometimes you will want to come up with some excuses to postpone your study session. You need to recognize such thoughts and feelings as procrastination. Do you know that when you think about some tasks that you do not want to do, it activates the pain centers in your brain [11]? That’s right, although you are not hurting outside, you are hurting mentally from thinking about the unpleasant tasks you have to do. While this is a neurological fact, you can overcome this. Studies have shown that this “mental pain” subsides a few minutes after you start doing that dreadful activity. And you do not have that anguish anymore [11]. Can you imagine, it’s more “painful” to procrastinate over an unwanted task than just do it. Nike has been right all along “Just do it” is a way to go with any activity that you would rather avoid. That’s why, don’t think about your studies and task too much: set the time of your day to study, create consistent cues for the study session, and jump in. Just in a few minutes, you will feel like a winner. 

2. Create short study sessions without interruptions and distractions

During these sessions, you will silence your phone and turn off the TV or whatever stuff constantly sucks your attention from the present moment, and you will dedicate the totality of your focus to what you’re studying. 
Set short study intervals. Do not start with huge expectations like studying for 2 hours straight, because if you get tired earlier and do not fulfill your plan, you might feel that you failed. Better commit to shorter study sessions – 20 or 30 minutes in a row. Every time you complete such a session, you will feel satisfaction from the realization of your plan. That positive feeling will provide even more self-confidence and will keep the habit going. 


After such a study session, take a rest and do your favorite activity, and then come back for more study sessions. This technique is sometimes called “the pomodoro technique”, because of the timer in the shape of a tomato that was set for twenty minutes for intense working sessions [11]. It’s critically important that you are not distracted during your study time. This improved focus allows you to get to the bottom of things much quicker, have some intellectual insights about your topic, and do more work in less time. So, for 20-30 minutes, do not check your emails, do not reply to messages, do not check Facebook, or even answer the phone (unless something REALLY important). You will see the difference it makes for the quality of your attention. 

3. Partner with a friend for joint study sessions

After you have worked on some subject alone, set up a meeting (online or in-person) with a friend who is working on the same subject to discuss any difficulties or stumbling stones you might have. If you feel like you do not have any difficulties to discuss, just check with each other on your homework. This can work as a sort of accountability, as you will have to report to your friend about the work done. You will provide each other peer support, and such collaboration can increase motivation and even make you more organized. And sometimes it is just easier to understand some things when you talk them out aloud. 

4. Start with a subject that is the most interesting for you

In this way, you will ease yourself into studying and build up the momentum and confidence to proceed to more challenging subjects. Remember, that in studying just like in everything in life, it’s not about talent, it’s about persistence. You might feel frustrated about some subjects and think that you are just not good at maths. But in reality, most likely the feeling is due to the fact that you did not understand some topic. Go back to that topic and work on it a little, make some exercises. Even if you do not do everything correctly, just by paying attention to the topic and practicing, you have increased your fluency a little tiny bit. So next time it will be easier. Just make enough sessions like this and you will notice improvement. In case you’re really stuck, always reach out for help.

5. Reach out for help

In case you have difficulties or feel stuck, do not hesitate to ask for help. You can discuss the matter with your friends and chances are, they can help you clear some things out. You can also reach out to your teacher. In the conditions of COVID, teachers understand that it’s very hard for students to keep up with the program, and usually, they try to help. You probably have some formal consultation hours with your teacher, but I am sure that if you email or call them, they will be able to clarify things for you or set the time for Q&A. Students are often shy to approach teachers as they think the teachers will be annoyed. In reality, most of the teachers love it when students show interest in their subjects and really try to learn it. So don’t forget that you always have this resource at your disposal. You also should have some library hours or special study centers at your school that can also help you with your homework. And of course, you can ask your parents to help you. If you’re more technologically minded, you can always find a forum on educational websites or communities and ask your questions there. 

6. Use an array of additional resources to complement your textbooks

They can be both offline (like libraries and books), and online. Online resources are vast and range from youtube videos and online courses (like the ones in Khan Academy and MOOCs on Coursera, EdX, and other sites), to online books, articles (in general search or on Google scholar), and apps. There are a vast amount of apps and quality websites on virtually every subject. If you are learning languages, for instance, you can use such free excellent apps like Language Transfer, Clozemaster, Anki, Duolingo. For example, if you study Spanish, websites like https://studyspanish.com provide excellent free resources on grammar and graded exercises on every topic. It’s especially helpful if an app or website provides you with feedback on your understanding of the topic and check your knowledge with quizzes, tests, drills, fill in the blanks exercises, and others. In this way, you will know if you are making progress and what things to pay attention to. 

7. Learn and practice essay writing

Since written assignments become among the main forms of evaluation during remote studies, you better nail the essay writing skill. On our website blog, you have lots of articles, guides, and recommendations on writing good quality essays and research papers. Here are some of them:

Our huge collection of essay and research paper writing guides

How to write high quality Master level research papers

Guide on writing 7 most common types of research papers

How to write the seven most popular types of college essays

We have described here the process that our professional academic writers employ to get the best result, so check them out. You can also improve your writing skills by taking some of the free courses on academic writing offered by Coursera, EdX, or other MOOC websites. You can also use Apps like Grammarly that not only correct typos and spelling, but also give you feedback on your writing style and suggest some better options of vocabulary or grammatical constructs. And lastly, if you struggle with writing your essays and academic papers, you can always hire our professional academic writers to help you out. 

8. Set yourself a minimum for daily study

For example 200 words of text if you need to write essays, 20 minutes of watching video lectures or reading the textbook, 5 exercises from the homework, or several lessons in the app. Make this “minimum standard” very doable so that you are not overwhelmed by the amount of work that awaits you. If you have to write a 5-page research paper, you tend to procrastinate as the task is too big and difficult. If you think instead, “today I need to write 200 words”, this job psychologically feels more manageable. You start working on these 200 words, and you feel like a winner. In such a way, you will crunch this 5-page paper with your baby steps in less than a week. When every day you do a little bit of homework, it is easier to overcome procrastination. Also, you are creating a habit that with time will take care of your study process without much self-torture and willpower overuse. If you have online assignments from your school, they tend to be on a weekly basis. Break down these tasks into smaller chunks to be crunching daily. In this way, even if something unexpected comes up on the last day, you will have most of the work done. 

9. Do a quick exercise before your study session

What does quick exercise do? 

  • It pumps the blood to your brain, making you more alert.
  • It stimulates adrenaline and norepinephrine, which makes you more attentive.
  • It causes the synthesis of BDNF, the “neural fertilizer”. It’s the molecule that helps you learn faster and create new neural connections, that is remember what you have read or heard [12]
  • It increases the levels of dopamine and serotonin, the neurotransmitters in your brain that help you stay focused, interested, and enthusiastic about your study [13]
  • And finally, it increases self-esteem and creates a momentum of good mood and determination that you will take into your study session. 

10. Do not eat shit

Aside from health concerns, junk foods like sweets, crackers, cookies, and soda make you lethargic and lazy. There is an urban myth that you need sweets to study because the brain runs on glucose, but it’s very misinformed. Unless you have some serious metabolic disease, you have enough glucose in your bloodstream to feed your brain at any time of the day, irrespective of what you have eaten. Our system of homeostasis works every second to provide a constant level of blood glucose into the bloodstream. Moreover, some people report that they achieve the highest level of mental acuity when they eat no sweets, very little carbs, moderate proteins, and lots of good fats. In this situation our body produces ketones, and they have been shown to have neuroprotective effects [14, 12].
So long story short, limiting your junk food and sweets will help you study easier. 

11. If you cannot muster the motivation

to do any of those things described above (which is quite common in times of lockdowns and restrictions implemented due to COVID), start with the simplest things. First of all, do some basic self-care. Take a shower, maybe instead of your pajama wear something that is associated with productive activity, drink some water, make some simple exercises, tidy up your room. This can already boost your motivation and provide constructive energy for the harder stuff. If you are ready for some serious action, start with the easiest and most pleasant task – watch a video, read a favorite book, play some game related to your studies. Get into the groove and in no time you will be rocking your homework!

And as always, if you have any difficulties or crazy deadlines, you can count on our professional research assistance. 

References

1. Ramirez S. (2020, August 5) Latino Parents Worry Remote Learning Will Leave Kids Behind. Houston Chronicle. https://www.govtech.com/network/Latino-Parents-Worry-Remote-Learning-Will-Leave-Kids-Behind.html

2. Jones, R.P. (2020, August 19). Parents Who Opt for Remote Learning Worry About Kids’ Education. CBC News. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/parents-remote-learning-1.5691200

3. Rasmitadila, R., Rachmadtullah, R., Aliyyah, R., Samsudin, A. (2020, July) The Perceptions of Primary School Teachers of Online Learning during the COVID-19 Pandemic Period: A Case Study in Indonesia. Journal of Ethnic and Cultural Studies, 7(2) http://dx.doi.org/10.29333/ejecs/388 

4. Di Pietro G., Biagi F., Costa P., Karpinski Z., Mazza J. (2020) The Likely Impact of COVID-19 on Education: Reflections Based on the Existing Literature and Recent International Datasets. JRC Technical Report, European Commission. https://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/bitstream/JRC121071/jrc121071.pdf

5. Dorn, E., Hancock, B., Sarakatsannis, J.,Viruleg, E. (2020, June). COVID-19 and Student Learning in the United States: The Hurt could Last a Lifetime. McKinsey & Company, https://fresnostate.edu/kremen/about/centers-projects/weltycenter/documents/COVID-19-and-student-learning-in-the-United-States-FINAL.pdf

6. UN (2020, August) Policy Brief: Education during COVID-19 and Beyond. United Nations. https://www.un.org/development/desa/dspd/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2020/08/sg_policy_brief_covid-19_and_education_august_2020.pdf

7. Alpert, William T., Kenneth A. Couch, and Oskar R. Harmon. 2016. A Randomized Assessment of Online Learning. American Economic Review, 106 (5): 378-82 https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/aer.p20161057

8. Cavanaugh, J., Jacquemin, S. (2015, March) A Large Sample Comparison of Grade Based Student Learning Outcomes in Online vs. Face-to-Face Courses. Online Learning, 19(2).

9. Figlio, D. N., Rush, M. & Yin, L. (2013). Is it Live or is it Internet? Experimental Estimates of the Effects of Online Instruction on Student Learning, Journal of Labour Economics 31(4), 763-84. 

10. Duhigg, C. (2012) The Power of Habit. Random House. 

11. Oakley, B., Sejnowski, T. Learning how to learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects. Online course. Coursera, https://www.coursera.org/learn/learning-how-to-learn#instructors

12. Sleiman, S., Henry, J., Al-Haddad R. et al. (2016) Exercise promotes the expression of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) through the action of the ketone body β-hydroxybutyrate. eLife, 2016; 5: e15092, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4915811/

13. Lin, T., Kuo, Y. (2013) Exercise Benefits Brain Function: The Monoamine Connection. Brain Science, 3(1): 39-53, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4061837/

14. Maalouf, M., Rho J., Mattson, M. (2009) The neuroprotective properties of calorie restriction, the ketogenic diet, and ketone bodies. Brain Research Reviews, 59(2): 293-315, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0165017308001045

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