Self-Study: What Is It and How To Do It

College student studying
August 28, 2023


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 5/4/22

Self-directed study is an incredibly important part of life; many people already do it without even realizing it. Taking the necessary steps to be a strong self-teacher/learner can profoundly impact both your education and your life. Not sure how to self-study? Keep reading!

There are many different ways to practice the art of self-study, whether that be learning an instrument, studying for an AP exam not offered by your high school, or learning a new language. 

Learning to study for yourself can serve you well in your early education and beyond. If you’re not sure where to start, continue reading to learn everything you need to know about how to self-study. We’ll cover why it’s important, give you a few tips, and answer some frequently asked questions.

What Is Self-Studying 

Self-studying, independently learning something at your own time and pace, involves setting goals and tracking your progress. Most importantly, the benchmarks for progress and success are self-imposed. This means that no one is telling you what to do or what constitutes successfully learning a skill or piece of knowledge.

In actuality, everyone has self-studied at some point in their lives. From studying for an exam in school to learning how to cook a new recipe or figuring out how to play a song on the piano, we’ve all engaged in self-studying. Essentially, there is an art to learning by yourself.

How Important Is Self-Studying 

Self-studying is an important part of realizing your goals and ambitions. Below are explanations for how self-studying can assist you in various settings. 

Self-Studying For School

Self-studying is an essential part of achieving a high GPA; it’s not just about how hard you work but your approach and overall mindset. There is no better time to start learning how to self-study than in high school. It can improve standardized test scores and also help you excel in your extracurricular activities

Learning new skills can impress college admissions committees and your professors once you get into college. This is because if you have different experiences of self-studying, through both your education and personal life, you’ll know how to acquire new skills on time. 

Self-Studying In Your Professional Life

With the expansion of learning resources and courses on the internet, cultivating the ability to self-study can be a game changer. With so many different ways to acquire knowledge online, self-studying can be a game changer when trying to gain valuable professional knowledge and experience. 

Learning how to self-study allows you to utilize all these different resources, making yourself a stronger candidate for the career you desire. Self-studying skills can also help you gain new knowledge in the event that you want to change your career path. 

A knack for studying on your own separates you from your coworkers and puts you in positions for promotions. If you have experience self-studying, through your education or personal life, you’ll know how to acquire new skills promptly. The ability to learn new skills can impress supervisors and make you an indispensable member of their team.

Self-Studying In Your Personal Life

Whether you wish to learn a new language or take up practically any other hobby, the ability to self-study will improve your productivity. With this increase in productivity, you’ll reap the benefits of these new interests and passions more quickly. With all the options available after college, self-studying helps you succeed in any direction life takes you. 

The ability to understand how you work and identify what areas need improvement in your work can help you accomplish whatever you set your mind to. Taking on new challenges and interests will occur with fewer periods of burnout. It’ll feel less like work when you can set realistic goals and see yourself excel in that specific area of your life.

Tips for Successfully Self-Studying 

Self-studying is a skill to be learned and perfected. Here are some ways to enhance your self-studying experiences. 

1. Practice Setting Realistic Goals

Setting attainable goals will help you achieve a state of flow while working and increase output. There’s a balance in setting goals at the sweet spot between naively optimistic and marginal. You don’t want to experience burnout through setting too high expectations for yourself, but you also don’t want to progress at a snail's pace. 

The first step to setting realistic goals is to know your limits. If you’re honest and humble with what you can get done with your current schedule, you’ll avoid burnout and find yourself working more consistently. The ability to set realistic targets in your self-studying can also increase your test-taking skills through more useful study sessions.

Next, you’ll want to grasp the most important lessons to learn to achieve your desired outcome. Identifying the most important aspects to focus on through your self-studying is a skill you can apply to all topics you study. It entails figuring out what you want to learn, how hard it might be, and then planning accordingly to meet your goals. 

2. Look For Connections To Enhance Your Learning

To fully grasp new concepts on your own, it’s helpful to relate what you’re learning to something you’ve encountered in the past. For example, if you’re learning a new programming language, referring to experience with another programming language or math-based knowledge can help you acquire the new knowledge faster.

Another way to make connections is to ground your learning in the overall lesson you’re teaching yourself. In other words, when you refer back to the bigger picture, why you’re learning this material, the true relevance of the current lesson emerges. 

An example of this could be learning creative writing. If you’re learning a specific writing style, re-emphasizing the greater goal of why you’re teaching yourself can show you the importance of that specific style. 

3. Maintain Study Habits And Environment

Finding how to motivate yourself to keep self-studying and persevere on days when you’re unmotivated will help you accomplish your goals. A good way to do this is by building a routine, which can ensure continuous work input. Finding motivation tactics can lead to better study habits, which result in stronger test-taking abilities. 

Remember to constantly ask yourself how you can make your self-studying efforts better, be that more enjoyable or informative. A key part of self-studying is maintaining the desire to want to learn better.

FAQs: Self-Study 

Here are some FAQs to help you better understand the art of self-directed studying. Like most things, you can learn and master the art of self-studying.  

1. What Does Self-Study Mean?

It means to effectively teach yourself what you want on your own time, without a person of authority directing your learning. Although it is an effective technique for test preparation in an educational setting, self-studying is a skill that can have far-reaching impacts on other aspects of your life.

2. Why Is Self-Study Important?

Self-studying is an important skill to learn because it can put you in a position to succeed at anything you do in life. If you know how to teach yourself, you can achieve anything you put your mind to.

3. How To Get Better At Self-Studying?

To get better at self-studying, you need to constantly re-assess how you practice. It will help if you reexamine how you learn and never lose sight of why you’ve decided to learn what you are. 

4. Does Self-Studying Mean Studying Alone?

Technically, self-studying means studying alone. However, studying for standardized tests, work assessments, or anything else of that nature can still be thought of as self-studying if you’re tasked with learning the information alone. 

5. What Are Some Real Benefits of Self-Studying?

Some of the benefits include an increased work output, higher GPA and test scores, better performance in a professional workplace, and greater intrinsic benefits from hobbies.  

6. What Are Some Examples of Self-Studying?

Picking up a new hobby, learning a new language, studying for an important standardized test, or reading books and articles on your own are all examples of self-studying.

Final Thoughts

The common phrase “you can do anything you put your mind to” becomes more tenable with the ability to self-study. You can achieve your goals in all facets of your life with an aptitude for self-studying.

A common trait among successful, influential people is an ability to self-study and direct their learning autonomously. With this, learning to study by yourself is key if you want to succeed in life.

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