That 30 minutes you spend going to and from university is being underutilized. This article explains 8 methods for studying during your commute that you will actually do.
If you spent both ways on your commute studying each way that would amount to 5 hours per week (assuming you commute 5 days per week for 30 mins each way). This is almost an entire extra day’s worth of studying time for most students by using time that you are already spending!
Let’s get into the different ways you can commute and their associated techniques.
Should you study while driving?
If you are commuting by car or using public transport, the techniques are going to be different as these are significantly different learning environments. When it comes to driving you are going to be limited to Audio based techniques.
But before we get into these, let’s go over whether studying while driving is even a good idea in the first place.
There are two important things to keep in mind to answer this question. These are legality and safety.
Firstly, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t be doing anything illegal by trying to study while driving.
Second, when it comes to safety, studying while driving is a bad idea, especially if you are driving on unfamiliar roads or in unfamiliar situations. There is research on the impact of driving performance from different cognitive tasks. When it comes to driving in familiar stations cognitive tasks don’t affect performance but when driving on unfamiliar roads performance is significantly impaired.1
So in terms of safety, the research supports being able to study using some of the methods below (as long as they are legal in your area) on a route you are very confident with driving.1
However, I still do not endorse studying while driving. This is simply because it’s not worth taking a risk for this studying time, to begin with.
Despite some research support for the safety of engaging in cognitive activities while driving a familiar route, driving while studying is not advisable. Your driving behavior can have serious effects on other motorists. On top of this, the environment of being in a car is already not conducive to learning due to how severely limited it is.
If you are driving, just drive. Why take a risk for such a small benefit?
Methods for studying while driving
Now that I have explained my position on this I will explain how you could study while driving if you want to. All of the methods that we can use while driving are audio-only. Driving is pretty limited compared to other techniques in terms of potential learning that can happen. But there is still some potential for learning on the road.
Listen to audio lectures on your phone
One of the best ways to study while driving is to download lectures and play them on your phone in your car. This essentially turns your lectures into a podcast.
It’s worth noting that for some lectures, this won’t work as well. If your lecturer uses lots of visuals this technique isn’t very effective.
You can use Quizlet to autoplay flashcards that are audio only. This means that you should be able to make flashcards that function as a podcast because it is one long listening session. You hear the question then a delay occurs and the answer is revealed without you having to interfere with the process at all.
However, making flashcards for this is time-consuming.
Explain concepts out loud
The last one is probably my favorite. You just think about what you are currently working on and try to explain it or teach it out loud. This requires no setup or work for it to work and if you can’t recall something you just learned about a weakness in your knowledge that you can fix.
The only issue is that you need to recall later what you had trouble recalling in the car.
Methods for Studying on Public Transport
Studying on public transport is much better compared to studying while driving. There is a lot more potential here because you have a lot less cognitive load being used. The only thing you really need to focus on is not missing your stop.
There are actually quite a few things you can do on the bus or subway to maximize your time.
First I will note that whatever you can do while driving you can do on public transport, but there are a lot of specific public transport techniques as well. Let’s get into some of them.
One of the best ways to study using public transportation is by using flashcards. Flashcards are already a generally great way to remember small details or specific pieces of information.
It’s likely that you will need to do these anyways. So it’s great to get them out of the way on the bus rather than sitting down and dedicating time you could be using on other more effective techniques wherever else you choose to study.
Download readings or textbooks
Another pass time on the bus is downloading readings or textbooks that you need to read anyways. Once again, this just seems like a great way to get something out of the way that you would have needed to get done regardless.
While on the bus you can also review your notes, just make sure you can access them on your phone or on paper. However, just re-reading your notes is not a great way to study. However, you can make this better by looking at your notes than trying to recall them from memory without looking at them.
This is kind of like a flashcard system except you don’t have to make the flashcards.
Phone brain dump
Another effective method of revision while on the bus is to just write down everything you know on your phone (or laptop, if you want to take that thing out of your bag).
This is great for strengthening the knowledge you already have and revealing the areas you are weaker in (you should also write these down as you go). You can then spend your non-commute studying time on these weaknesses.
This isn’t a technique per se but it is supremely helpful for studying while using public transportation. Studying in a loud environment can be distracting. By using some good headphones you can have much more control over your environment (ideally, sound-canceling headphones are best, but something is still better than nothing).
Your commute is a potentially underutilized part of tour day that, if used effectively, could amount to a significant amount of extra effective studying. The important thing to keep in mind is the differences in available techniques depending on whether you are driving or using public transport. Overall, public transit is much more suited to commute studying. Studying while driving is just not worth it.
- Engström, J., Markkula, G., Victor, T., & Merat, N. (2017). Effects of Cognitive Load on Driving Performance: The Cognitive Control Hypothesis. Human Factors, 59(5), 734–764. https://doi.org/10.1177/0018720817690639
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