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Aesthetic Study: A Source of Inspiration or Unnecessary Stress?

Before you order another set of pastel highlighters, read this.

Collage of Aesthetic Study Setup Pictures

As another academic year begins, students are looking for ways to reinvigorate their study routines. While a to-go coffee or a quick desk clean might suffice for some, the growing obsession with “aesthetic study” means that a lot of students are now going above and beyond to look and feel productive. The end result, which usually involves pastel colors, cursive titles, and doodles, may be pretty but is it worth the time, money, and effort?

Are There Any Benefits?

If you’ve been on StudyTube, or any other corner of social media dedicated to study inspo, you’ve probably seen videos showing extremely neat and beautiful notes. While it’s been proven that handwriting notes is “an instrumental strategy to store and process ideas as a long-term memory”, is there anything to gain from embellishing them with brush pens and washi tape?

If you’re in a study rut, aesthetic note-taking could help you to feel motivated again, just like how a good outfit can make us feel ready to conquer the day. Though these little adornments may be “unnecessary”, they inject a bit of creativity and fun back into life when things become boring or difficult. As Maddy Jeffrey points out, for visual learners, making aesthetic study notes is also “an effective way to absorb knowledge”. Drawing relevant doodles alongside your notes may be especially helpful as it lets your mind engage with the information in a different way.

Nate Kornell, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Williams College, examines the two components that make up a beautiful set of notes: organization and artistry. Most of the notes posted on social media are characterized by well-organized pages and impossibly uniform handwriting. Of course, this immaculate presentation is beautiful but more importantly, it helps students to understand and memorize what they’ve written. According to Kornell, the aesthetic touches do not.

Notebook page showing words written in different fonts and colors

Pretty Notes Don’t Equal Good Grades

“Spending time choosing colors, writing beautiful calligraphy, drawing incredible pictures, and so on—the artistry or beautiful notes—probably won’t help you learn. This is because it takes your focus off of the information you are learning and puts it on the aesthetics.”

Nate Kornell, Ph.D.

Though it should be obvious that pretty notes aren’t an indicator of productivity or academic success, the obsession with aesthetics in online study communities can make it seem otherwise. Most content creators not only have perfect notes but also pristine study spaces with cute decorations and heaps of stationery. Regardless of whether this elaborate study setup helps them to learn, the ability to create it in the first place is a privilege.

When students have to manage part-time jobs and other responsibilities, in addition to their studies, they should hardly have to worry about whether their study sessions are aesthetic. As Eileanor Crilly states in her article about StudyTube, the online study space has created “a toxic culture surrounding productivity, further pressurizing already stressed students to push themselves beyond their limits”.

A beautiful study area with a candle, flowers, and pastel writing materials

Recognize It As A Hobby, Not A Necessity

Of course, if this is something you love to do and you have time to spare, then go for it. I think we can all agree that aesthetic notes are very pleasing to look at even if we don’t have time to make them ourselves. The problem is when this excessive approach is seen as the norm.

Most students struggle to cover all their material, never mind making it pretty. Yet, when they head to an online study space looking for inspiration, they usually end up feeling worse about themselves due to the unrealistic study habits promoted there. Aesthetic study is a hobby, not a requirement for being a good student, and content creators should acknowledge this.

Despite the increasing aestheticization of study on social media, the reality of student life hasn’t changed. For most people, it’s not aesthetic and may actually involve cramming in the middle of the night at a desk covered in snack wrappers. What matters is that your study method works for you, not what it looks like.

Written By

Just graduated from UCC with a BA in music and English. My other passions include learning languages, astrology, and art.

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