student working on a laptop

Midterms are coming, and finals will be here before you know it. Students everywhere are biting their nails and doodling nervously in their notebooks, hoping they’ll do well. But how do you turn your hopes into reality?

With good study habits. If you start thinking about studying now, you’ll prepare yourself for success in a few months. And the first step is to figure out where you study best.

Humans are profoundly affected by their environments. Your surroundings — whether you’re in a small or large room, a loud or a quiet one, even a blue or a red one — can change your emotions, thoughts and focus. That means that surrounding yourself with the correct stimuli can make the difference between studying that sticks, or doesn’t.

So try to find study locales with characteristics that calm you down and aid your focus and memory. Look at these environmental features:


While much of the field of color psychology is unproven, one study has noted a correlation between the color red and poorer test performance. No one knows why, but the common wisdom holds that red excites our nervous system, making us agitated or excited and less likely to focus. Of course it’s hard to dictate the color of the room that’s most convenient for you, but if you can, try to pick a room without loud colors. You don’t want the walls themselves to distract you!


Are you claustrophobic? Then avoid the study carrels in the library! Room size has different effects on different people, and while a small space would serve to block distractions from one student, it might make another anxious. Anxiety can lead to interruptions in certain cognitive functions, like working memory. Try to create environments that make you feel calm and happy when you start to study, and chances are you’ll pay better attention to your work.

Noise Level

Noise is another surprising stressor. We know you love that coffee shop, but some scientists think that background noise creates a certain amount of bodily stress, producing a hormone called cortisol. Excess cortisol keeps a section of the brain called the prefrontal cortex from working properly. The prefrontal cortex helps control what’s called “executive” functions, including planning and reasoning — two faculties you’ll need while you’re studying for a difficult exam! Scientific American claims that “the prefrontal cortex [may also store] short-term memories. Changes to this region, therefore, may disrupt a person’s capacity to think clearly and to retain information.”

So what’s your perfect study environment? Only you can figure that out, but our suggestion is to trust your gut. Look for a room that makes you feel at ease, probably a quiet one with cool colors. The more relaxed you are, the better you’ll remember why the Archduke Franz Ferdinand is important, or when George Washington forded the Delaware, or who discovered DNA. Find a great place, and hit those books!