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The Art of the Study Break: How to Refresh Your Mind

June 13, 2017
Caroline Smyth

Learn how to refresh your mind during study breaks.

Taking frequent study breaks can actually enhance productivity.

It’s easy to forget to allow yourself to take a break while studying for the GRE. Most people mistakenly believe that periodic study breaks lead to less productivity once they return to the task at hand—which in the case of the GRE, requires lots of memorization and a good amount of focus. Yet, a study from the University of Illinois found that just the opposite is true.

How to refresh your mind during study breaks

Think of your brain like a battery: Continued use will decrease the battery’s ultimate performance; however, recharging the battery more frequently between shorter periods of use will allow for more sustained performance. The same is true of your brain. Even a short break, the study found, will allow for a significant increase in overall focus and endurance.

So, how do you refresh your mind and increase productivity when taking a break from your GRE prep? The key to a productive study break is learning how to give your body and mind sufficient rest while also staying motivated and ready to back to it.

1. Get some fresh air

Now is the time to reap the health benefits of taking a walk. Stand up, start moving, and get the blood flowing. Fresh air and physical movement will help clear your mind, brighten your mood, and improve motivation and cognitive function.

2. Vary the duration of your breaks

Try alternating the length of your GRE study breaks so that you have increasingly larger chunks of time to look forward to. Timing yourself in this manner can also be used as a spaced repetition technique for enhancing your retention of information.

3. Set aside time to socialize

Take those well-deserved study breaks a step further by scheduling lunch or dinner with friends. Socializing will give you something to look forward to and provide a release from all the intense focus you’ve needed to get through your work. Research has shown that social outings, even if only for a short amount of time, can both boost productivity and will increase motivation when needed.

4. Work in short, powerful bursts

Figure out the most productive stretch of time in which you can usually work without feeling like you need a break. For some, that’s about 90 minutes, but the amount can vary from person to person. Once you know what works best for you, work in these short, energy-driven bursts with quick motivated breaks in between to ensure you don’t get burnt out by reviewing the material too quickly.

5. Take a quick nap

Napping—or sleep in general—improves memory and mental alertness and allows for increased productivity and cognitive capacity to absorb new information. Take a 20–30 minute power nap for an effective energy boost between work shifts. Just make sure to set that timer so you don’t oversleep.

6. Release your stress

The most effective breaks from studying include calming activities—making yourself a cup of tea, reading an article, practicing deep breathing or meditation, or doing some form of yoga. These activities renew your body’s energy and mental alertness.

7. Feed your brain some different stimuli

Try to solve a crossword or Sudoko puzzle—any kind of mental stimulation other than what you’ve been working on. Find a fun way to challenge your mind and keep it working without it feeling like work. There are plenty of brain-training apps out there that can help prime you for a productive study session.

8. Put on some music

It has been said that babies who listen to Mozart grow up to be more intelligent. Whether or not that’s true, classical music can be a useful study tool when preparing for a graduate exam. Put on some music that you enjoy but that won’t distract you too much from being able to get back to work.

9. Avoid social media

Refrain from checking your social media or from watching an episode of a TV series. Scrolling mindlessly through your Twitter feed or getting sucked into the latest Netflix series will distract you, weaken your focus, and make it more difficult to get back into your mental study zone.

10. Don’t feel guilty

Remember, taking study breaks is all part of GRE prep. It can be easy to feel a bit guilty for closing your book or putting down your flashcards, but remind yourself that the harder you work the more you should feel entitled to using this important time to recoup and to get back into the swing of things.

Elevate your Test Day endurance by incorporating prep into your everyday routine. Answer our free GRE question a day to start practicing.



Caroline Smyth Caroline is a junior graduating a year early from Binghamton University with her bachelor's in English Literature and Rhetoric. Her studies focus on writing, social media, and marketing, and she is currently a potential accelerated BSN student for this upcoming fall. As a writer, speaker, and juvenile diabetes advocate, she's known for her obsession with Instagram and her involvement as a Kaplan Student Brand Ambassador. In her spare time, Caroline can be found enjoying beautiful New York City, going to the beach, or cooking a delicious meal for her friends.


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