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Videos on how to study with the techniques W. S. Emara used through high school and refined at Columbia University.

Lessons from the Ivy League

by W. Sam Emara

Study tips learned in the Ivy League, plus lessons from the gym that can help you study.

The demanding circumstances of being a premed biology major at Columbia University forced me to find interesting ways to stay focused, methods that can increase the efficiency of less intense studying needs. Oftentimes before a test I would have a friend or one of my younger brothers quiz me on the material, it's easier when you have flash cards of things to memorize like Spanish vocabulary, so they can just run through them with you.  This will help keep you honest about what you really know.

When exercising the creative process, particularly when writing, I find that the organization of my desk and the lighting play an important role.  So be conscious of your workspace.  An uncluttered surface and dim warmer light always helps me to think.  Also, you don’t want to be in a noisy environment.  Some people need some ambient sound to concentrate, others prefer quiet.  If you listen to music while you work, chose the volume and genre mindfully as you may find yourself typing more quickly listening to a faster tempo.  I notice that my productivity goes up when listening to the rhythm of the rain, otherwise I would rather study in silence.

Going to the library served as a motivational tool for me.  There is something about being surrounded by walls of books reminding you of how little you actually know.  Being around other hardworking students will further encourage you to study harder; especially when you recognize people from your specific class when you walk into the study hall, and find them still there twelve hours later when you leave - as was often the case in Butler Library.  For some reason, when picking a spot at the library it was easier for me to focus when sitting by a wall as opposed to in the middle of the room, and in a chair that was comfortable, but not too comfortable because you don’t want to help yourself fall asleep.

Between studying, conducting research, and tutoring I was too busy to sleep for most of the semester, but I learned to take quick twenty-minute-long power naps to stay sharp; while it caught up to me eventually, I was able to hold off completely crashing until after finals. I also limited my caffeine intake, to avoid desensitizing myself to its effects. That way a cup of lightly-brewed green tea would keep me from losing altitude at the library and a Mountain Dew was enough to get me through one of those three-hour-long Chem exams. Meanwhile my friends were drinking Red Bull just to get to class; once you’re addicted to that stuff there aren’t many options left for keeping you awake.

A cold shower can sometimes give you a few more hours of strength before you’re too tired to study.  I learned this when walking back to my dorm from the library late one night through a cold rain. I left the library exhausted, but walking through the rain made me want to take a shower, which allowed me to put in another three-hour block of studying before I had to crash.

This might sound funny, but associating an object with time dedicated to studying a specific subject is a good way to encourage your brain to get into that mode. Wearing a particular hat every time you start writing an essay will, on some level, build a connection between that hat and the mental processes involved in essay writing. So the next time you need to start writing putting on your hat will help accelerate the writing process.

If you study the same subject continuously for too long, eventually you’ll hit this wall and not be able to absorb the material. Just as when working out, to increase the time spent targeting the same muscle group you should lift in sets of ten repetitions each; allowing more total reps before hitting the wall than if you were to just continually lift without intermittent breaks. You should study in blocks of time dedicated to different subject matter, rather than focusing on one subject straight through.  Alternating between subjects will help maintain your stamina, prolonging the overall amount of time dedicated to your school work.


NYC Lab School
Chosen by his High School teachers to tutor peers.
W. S. Emara tutors New York City students from K–12 in-person, and online via skype video calls for those outside NYC.
New York University Medical Center Microbiology Research Laboratory
Design and perform experiments in infectious disease as a member of the lab group of Department of Medicine Chairman Martin J. Blaser, MD.
Recieved email:
Accepted into Columbia University
Continued to tutor students and conduct research as a premed biology major.
Publishes article on microbiology research
click to read
Emara Academic Solutions™
Returned to NYC to continue his tutoring practice.
Friedrich-Engels Gymnasium Senftenberg, Deutschland
Taught English to students from grades 9 to 12 in German High School.

Revitalized English department, streamlining the ambitions of the students and the requirements of standardized testing into a contemporary curriculum.
Internship in Building Community
Facilitated the livelihood of students enrolled in Columbia University’s High School Summer Program as a Resident Advisor.

Coordinated and supervised extracurricular activities for students throughout NYC.


Larisa F.
(tutored regularly from September ’05 to June ’08 in Math and Chemistry)
"I walk into a session not even knowing how to start a type of problem, and I leave able to solve any version of it."
Dan B.
(a Writing client in January’09)
"He’s just so good at it… he’s like a machine, you give him a writing prompt and out comes an A paper."
Ben T.
(tutored regularly from August ’06 to June ’07 in Math and then College Admissions Essay Writing)
"[W. S. Emara] was involved and interested in my success. While other tutors I’ve had were impersonal time-watchers, my Emara Academic Solutions sessions wouldn’t even start until after some time talking with the family."
Ina R.
(mother of two students tutored in English in ’07)
“Besides the immediate results of higher English grades, the more striking results were long-term. Both of my children became more engaged students that take pride in their work raising scores in more than just English class.”