The Secret to Conquering Study Procrastination

secret to conquering study procrastinationPicture this scenario. You know you have to study for a big exam, but you’re not confident with the material. You open your book to study, find yourself getting more and more frustrated, and just give up.

You know you need to study, but keep finding good reasons to procrastinate until the day before the exam. Suddenly there’s no time to procrastinate, so you cram and cram until you’re exhausted, frustrated, and more confused than ever.

Your exam does NOT turn out as planned.

Does this sound familiar?

I was a huge procrastinator in college, and as a tutor I work with many students who regularly procrastinate. It’s a big issue for college students. You know there’s work to be done, but something keeps holding you back.

Although I have no official scientific proof to validate this, as I experimented on, or rather, coached my many students, I discovered that they had the same problem I did.

It’s Human Nature To Avoid Pain

I don’t like pain. While I have a high tolerance for physical pain, I still I don’t like to feel sad or hurt. It’s human nature. In studying for an exam that I knew I’d ace, I had no problem opening my books and getting on with it.

But when I found myself studying to the point of frustration, I’d end up feeling bad; and then ‘avoiding emotional pain’ became my really good excuse to not study.

Forcing yourself to study through this emotional pain doesn’t work. To eliminate fear-induced procrastination you have to mentally change your attitude about studying – by taking away the fear.

How? By starting and ending every study session with a win.

Starting with a Win

For me, the hardest part about studying was the getting-started portion because I knew that ‘starting’ might lead to pain; once my books were open, though, I would find the motivation to keep going, and going, and going.

The key to getting started?

Start with something that is not painful. Something easy.

If you know you have 3 hours to study, use that first half hour to review something that you already know you know. For example, if you’re working on alkene reactions in organic chemistry, use the first half hour to review naming of alkenes and nucleophile/electrophile concepts. These are important, yet easier compared to more difficult reactions.

If you’re studying MCAT Forces and Motion, start with a quick review of trigonometry, or perhaps spend 15-30 minutes on Active Writing for the kinematic equations to ensure you have them properly memorized.

By starting with something you know, you’ll feel confident and motivated to keep going. It’s not new or difficult material, so you won’t get stuck.

This 30-minute confidence booster will provide you with a review of must-know concepts, and put you in a positive mindset so that you can keep studying and tackling material that is potentially difficult.

Ending with a Win

With most of your study session devoted to the difficult material, you’ve hopefully made progress and mastered the material intended. Perhaps you are still shaky in some concepts, and maybe even a bit frustrated; that’s fine, because at least you’ve made progress.

With just 30-45 minutes remaining, put the difficult material aside, take a short break, then devote the final 30 minutes to again reviewing something that you know you know. Use this segment to end your studies on a confident note, to review basics, strengthen your foundation, and end with a positive feeling of this study session.

Study Block Suggestion for MCAT Students

Another option, especially for MCAT students covering 3 years worth of undergrad science, is to break up your study blocks accordingly:

  • 30 minutes review of past content within this subject
  • short break then work on new material for most of your study block
  • short break then Active Writing on this subject for the last 15-20 minutes

In using the ‘start-and-end-with-a-win’ method, you’re accomplishing the following:

You feel positive about your study experience. You hopefully now view the new material as at least ‘interesting’ so you will be less likely to sabotage your efforts tomorrow when it comes time to open your notes again.

Starting with something simple, you open with positivity, reinforce the can-do, lack-of-fear in your brain, and make the session easier to get into.

By ending with a win, you’re telling your brain “this studying wasn’t so bad”, thus not fearing tomorrow’s session (and dare I say looking forward to it).

By starting the next session with a win, you’re telling your brain “see, this is easy, let’s do this”.

I’d like to hear from you. Do you find yourself procrastinating in your studies? If so, do you think it has to do with that inner voice of fear trying to save you from the pain? Let me know by leaving a comment below.


  1. Jessica Nalumansi says

    Very true, after a long day of multi-tasking, time to study is swept away with Dr. Procrastination

  2. do you know abt an exam called iit jee

  3. Thank you so much for this Leah… This exactly what I’ve been going through. I just get so fustrated barely 30 mins into studying. But you gave great advice and I’ll be applying it. I’ll let you know how it goes.

  4. Actually,I do read but can’t comprehend

  5. Thank you for the read Leah, I tackled this obstacle in college, and during my masters I had mastered this problem, but it cam back, do you know what to do when the problem comes back. This article definitely helped though, as I am going to use the techniques mentioned here to tackle a problem, which is coming back into my life.

  6. I really procrastinate especially when it comes to hard exam like MCAT. Where to start and there are diverse topics to be covered , usually end up just overthinking and learning less than I could , I think.

  7. Albert Hoffman says

    You’re a super star at University of North Texas! This was really useful 🙂 thanks and I can’t wait for the mcat workshop

  8. This is me exactly. I always wondered why I find it so hard to get started studying. I delay and procrastinate for days, sometimes weeks at a time! But the opposite was true for subjects that came easy to me–for example, English and History were always strong subjects for me, and since studying was a breeze, I actually enjoyed it and never procrastinated to get work in those subjects done. I didn’t FEAR English or History.

    But when it comes to the challenge of the MCATs, I feel fear and a lack of confidence in my abilities to ace it. So I just avoid the pain as you said.

    Thank you for the “win” method. Studying for the MCATs truly does require you to change the way you think and to abandon your fear of failure.

    • Leah4sci says

      Michellepunsamie: If English is your strong point, perhaps start every study session with a CARS passage. This will ensure you are motivated to transition to the more difficult topics

  9. I’m pretty sure I’m the king of procrastination. I will definitely try this strategy. In a way I already do because I have stuff like labs to finish writing, chapter problems, and just studying for the current test but I usually end up watching one of your videos on a more basic concept that I should have already learned. problem is I never get to the hard stuff lol. I’m gonna make an effort to do that today though.

    POWER OF HABIT.—The diminutive chain of habit is scarcely heavy enough to be felt, till it is too strong to be broken.—Dr. Johnson

    • Leah4sci says

      Sounds like you have the basic idea Alex, now put it into practice. Just make sure you don’t allow a ‘distraction’ to act as a pretend ‘fun starting topic’

  10. I procrastinate not solely because of the fear and frustration to come, but also, because, I’m still trying to find the best way for me to study. Recently, I took the VARK test, and I just learned that I am a highly visual and kinstetic learner, so now, I’m trying to find ways that best work for these kinds of learners… I’m not the best studier….. and any suggestions would be more than welcome….. I’m a Junior at a University, and I still don’t know how to study correctly…

  11. This is quite true (well accurate to me). I start off studying with something I’m familiar with. Things start clicking and it makes me feel more confident about myself and the materials! 🙂

  12. Can I look at you workshop from youtube? What is the call in number.

  13. I am always distracted by my tablet while studing even though it isn’t in the same room… what do i do to stop this?

  14. I’m procrastinating right now by reading this entry on procrastination! Very good ideas though, I will try to implement them. Something that works for me *sometimes* is setting a timer, knowing I only have to study for about an hour helps get me in to zone. Breaking it into smaller chunks somehow seems more manageable.

    • timers are great, especially to remind you a break is coming. But don’t keep looking at the timer or you’ll be distracted.

  15. This is so true. Thanks. I think the confidence building is key to getting started. This happens every semester.

    • Leah4sci says

      Glad you found it helpful. Boosting your own ability to believe in yourself is key to studying harder and scoring higher

  16. Thank you!!!! This is my life right now!

  17. Very Well Said – thank you so much

  18. Everyone has a different study method. This one is simply about learning to stop procrastinating

  19. That literally tells my story. Thank you for the great advice 🙂

  20. If there was an award of being a procrastinator, I’d be the top contestant. I’m a person who passes his exams without studying much….but I know I can do better and achieve excellence hence my biggest problem is procrastinating. It has nothing to do with fear of the pain, I get distracted easily eg: video games, t.v shows etc. my worst problem is the nice – cold weather, it makes me fall asleep easily therefore usually no studies are done. Do give me some helpful tips and suggestions and thanks for the emails and feed backs

    Kind regards
    Year 13 student

    • Leah4sci says

      LMAO on the award for procrastination. That used to be me, especially with ADHD. Here are some tips that have worked for me. Turn off all means of distraction. Study in a room without TV or video games, leave your phone in the other room too. But… reward yourself for good behavior. Study for an hour, reward yourself by going on Facebook, do this again a few times, then reward yourself with a video game and so on

  21. Leah, I like the idea of starting with a concept that you feel is ‘manageable’. I used something similar. By starting with a topic I felt more comfortable with ( say ‘the nervous system’ ), it became easier to open the books, and gave me an opportunity to build up confidence before attacking topics that I might have avoided. In my case, it was not necessarily by fear that I avoided the difficult topics but more about building up a momentum.

    • Leah4sci says

      You are absolutely correct. I think for me is was fear, but confidence is very close. The more confident you are about tackling your books the more likely you will study. It’s a cycle that feeds on itself

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