Optimizing Your Student's Summer Study Space

Studying over the summer isn’t always fun. Sure there are ways to try and make it more exciting with games and engaging multimedia content, but for the most part, students study because they have to, not because they want to.

Therefore, as tutors and test prep professionals, it is crucial to ensure that the time students spend studying is both focused and productive. One of the most overlooked ways to maximize the effectiveness of a student’s studying time is taking a closer look at the studying environment itself.

A couple simple, purposeful choices can make a huge impact on the quality of a student’s studying experience! Here are some learning space hacks you can put in place for your students to help create a more optimized study space.


We live in a world filled with constant distractions. These distractions get amplified when we are forced to focus our attention on things we don’t want to do. The same is true for students.

When creating a study space, figure out what is actually needed for the task at hand and remove everything else. In most cases, a computer, a few pieces of paper, and small assortment of writing implements should do the trick.

Approach furniture choices in a similar fashion. In most cases, the combination of a stable, flat surface paired with a reasonably comfortable seat is ideal. Extra features like drawers, gadgets, and cubbies just invite clutter. Keep it simple.

Power Down Devices

There is probably no more distracting device than the modern smartphone. With a few swipes and taps, users can be in touch with multiple social media accounts, news feeds, kitten videos, and their entire circle of contacts. The never-ending rabbit-hole of the world-wide-web is always just a click away.

(See…you wanted to click that link pretty bad, didn’t you!)

Most students are digital natives with an innate urge to be constantly plugged in, following links, and staying connected. As such, we as educators need to help our students help themselves. During study time, personal devices shouldn’t just be on silent, they need to be off.

By adding that extra barrier of boot-up time into the equation (as opposed to just the swipe of a fingerprint or tap of a pin code) it makes the devices that much harder to access on a whim. The device won’t beckon the student with a tone or vibration, and the student will be less inclined to try to sneak a quick peek at their notifications.

Hit the Lights

Once the immediate study space has been cleared of potential distractions, the next step is providing an optimal atmosphere in the room itself. One of the quickest and most effective fixes is replacing some light bulbs.

For all the modern conveniences provided by Edison’s incandescent light bulb and all the lighting innovations that followed, the human brain is still wired to perform optimally with natural light. The obvious issue here is that the SATs and ACTs (and virtually every other test our students take) are administered indoors. Similarly, most tutoring takes place indoors as well.

Research has shown that lighting rooms with bulbs that produce color temperatures in the daylight-like “cool” range rather than the “warm” range produces higher levels of active engagement.

Therefore, when designing study spaces for students, the obvious first choice is filling the space with as much natural light as possible. If this isn’t possible or practical, opt for LED-based lighting choices that are in rated to be in the daylight range. Alternatively, you could choose more dynamic options that allow for the lights’ color temperatures to be tuned as needed.


Sound can affect different students in different ways. Some will opt for complete silence while others may crave a steady din of noise. Controlling the sound of a study space can be crucial to promoting positive focus.

For students who prefer total silence, designing study spaces that are isolated from busy, noisy areas should be a priority. When a totally private study space isn’t practical, having noise-canceling headphones or earplugs available can make a world of difference.

On the other hand, many students opt to have some kind of background noise to help set the tone for their study sessions. To fill this need, there are countless mixes online that feature natural sounds or various types of white noise (both with and without music mixed in); there’s even a site dedicated to mimicking the ambiance of coffee shops from around the world!

If online options open the door to too much potential distraction, consider adding a sound machine to the study space to achieve the same result.

Regardless of whether you go with an online or offline sound solution, preview the sounds to ensure there aren’t any jarring noises or obvious loops; both could quickly become annoying distractions for a student to fixate on.

In the case of background music, there are plenty of research-based dos and don’ts to consider. In short, students should choose music based on a tempo that reflects the level of stimulation or relaxation their study habits require. Ideally, music should provide a steady baseline of stimulation without becoming an attention-grabbing focus. Regardless of the song choices, however, a moderate volume is always better than barely audible or blaringly loud.

Practice Tests Are a Different Story

While a carefully curated study space can optimize a student’s ability to practice new skills, it doesn’t do much to simulate the experience of taking an actual test. Creating the perfect sensory experience can help remove some of the stress and challenging distractions of test prep, but it could actually be a disservice to a student in the long run.

When it comes times to take a practice test, students should be in environments that closely emulate the real testing conditions. This will help prevent any shock or undue stress on test day when the security of the study nook has been swapped for a student desk and crowded classroom.

Simply put, when it’s time to practice skills, the perfect study space makes a difference; when it’s time to take a practice test, realism beats comfort.

(…and now here are your kitten videos)

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Matt McCorkle