‘Studytube’: From A*s to Toxic Productivity

Studytube: the place where students from GCSE to their masters degree share tips, tricks, routines and home truths about grades, over achieving and revision. The place where countless students will desperately scramble, wondering how to smash that Oxbridge interview, or get those sweet sweet A*s. The place where 8 hour ‘study with me’ videos are acceptable. Studytube: the place where productivity becomes a substitute for mental health?

Big names in the Youtube world like Jack Ben Edwards, Ruby Granger, UnJaded Jade, Eve Bennet, Ibz Mo and Eve Cornwell, found their home in the pastel highlighter tinted, bullet journal and Post-It note covered corner of Youtube from around 2015. No wonder it was so attractive to students from across the UK and beyond, desperate to excel academically and to be let into the world of ‘secrets’ of how to get into the best universities and achieve the best grades; no matter their background or experiences.

Creators like Ibz Mo and Eve Cornwell showed how you could excel academically and achieve your goals when you weren’t a middle class, private school kid from a predominantly white background or area. Ibz (Ibrahim Mohammed) cultivated over 110,000 followers, attended Wolfson College, Cambridge and proved that you can come from a single-parent, free school meals background and still achieve incredible things academically.

Videos by these creators have titles like INTENSE STUDY WITH ME: 8 HOUR EASTER HOLIDAY EDITION! (Serious revision motivation!) ,The 80/20 Principle in Studying and How to Use It, 5 Productivity Hacks to Halve your Study Time and Be More Effective and watch if you’re failing A levels & don’t know how to study. Intense, tempting and ideal when you’re a worried student, right? But could that intense demonstration of perceived productivity, actually be having a negative long term effect on viewers?

I spoke to several young adults who grew up in the Studytube climate, who engaged with that area of social media and who still engage or are affected by it today.

Neve

“I first started watching YouTube as a whole during the whole 2012 brit crew kind of phase watching people like Zoella, Alfie Deyes etc. However then I started watching people like Molly Thompson and Eve Bennett… As myself and Eve are the same age, as soon as she started doing studytube content it was relevant to me because I was also going through my exams at the same time.”

When the content you are watching is being put out by people who are the same age as you, having similar experiences, it can feel as though you should be doing what they are doing.

“I don’t think it increased my productivity at all, it gave me more of an idea on different methods to revise but because I know I wasn’t at an A or A* kind of level that what studytubers were doing like over 8 hours of revision it just wasn’t relevant to me and was slightly unrealistic. Mental health wise I think it just made me realise how much I wasn’t even in the same league as some of them…I think watching people who aren’t at the same intellectual level as you makes you doubt yourself… thinking you’re not doing enough. Although some of the routines they put out as content would make me think, ‘well if I did what they were doing then I would get better grades’ but for a lot of people sitting and doing over 8 hours of revision a day with barely any breaks just isn’t healthy and is unachievable.”

So, even for students who may know that the pinnacle of higher education isn’t for them, self doubt and disappointment can be overwhelming, if they are choosing to consume this content. However, one could suggest that they are making that choice, and we agree that if any content is having an adverse affect on your mental health, you owe no creator your readership.

Louise

“I was around 16 when I started watching Studytubers – as I was getting ready to start Sixth Form (i.e the summer before). I watched Jack Edwards, UnJaded Jade, Eve Cornwell and Eve Bennett. It definitely made me more organised, but if anything it reduced my productivity for academic purposes – trying to compare to their successes when I was struggling, made me gradually become less and less motivated. Mental health wise, it made everything a lot worse. Sixth Form was okay, because I was more focused on studying and learning, but at university where I knew nobody when I started, I clung to what they were doing a bit more. And I was miserable. When I wasn’t getting solid 1st marks I was stressing myself out and making myself miserable for weeks, that culminated in a minor breakdown before Christmas.”

Of course, no one can say that because of the pressures and often unattainable strain of studytude, mental illness is inevitable, but for some students, like Louise, it seems this kind of hyper-productivity and goal setting pushed their mental health, while just trying to find their place at university. This precedent of great grades, social life and success, can, alongside that of social media and educators, put an immeasurable pressure on young people in higher education. This can all happen without any actual improvement in productivity.

Katie

“I found that watching studytube videos did improve my productivity as I aspired to be like Eve and Jade. They were my role models when it came to academia, and I’d say they still are now. They showed me what it was possible to achieve when you put in the hard work. I’d say studytube has had many different impacts on my mental health. Years ago, studytube videos encouraged you to put so many hours of work into your studies. I’d constantly compare the couple of hours that I’d done to the 6-8 hours studytubers were doing on the internet – it wasn’t healthy. I learnt that I could still be just as successful with my couple of hours and the hours and hours they were showing was not sustainable. Everyone learns in different ways and sometimes their ways were not for me.”

It is difficult when you are looking at people like you, putting in insane quantities of time and effort to achieve the results they want and not to compare yourself to them. But, these people become idolised- role models- and they are just kids themselves, being looked up to by other kids, and that can cultivate some toxic environments. However, some members of the studytube community have spoken out about this and done work in changing this standard:

“I’m glad that since then they’ve started teaching young students that you aren’t defined by your grades and there’s more to life than a letter or number on a piece of paper – especially UnJaded Jade. I also feel like growing up watching studytube has contributed to me being a perfectionist and the fact that most of the time I have to be doing something productive. Although I believe I’m successful because of this, it can be exhausting. Having said of that, nothing compares to the happiness I feel when my hard work pays off and I’m rewarded with a grade or mark that I know I deserve.”

Exhausting and often toxic it may be, but is this exhaustion worth it when you are working long hours to achieve your goals, stepping onto a level playing field with your role models? We also spoke to Mary, who shared that she felt “watching studytubers was often pressuring. I felt bad if I couldn’t muster 14 hours of revision like Ruby Granger”.

The ethics of videos like this, was touched on by Abigail.

Abigail

“For me, studytube has been a great influence but, if unchecked, it can easily slip over into toxic productivity. It’s so valuable to have a community which values studying and where people have such a genuine passion. I’m a year younger than a lot of the studytubers I initially watched (UnJaded Jade, Eve Bennett, Ruby Granger) so seeing their academic journeys especially in the early days of studytube, there were lots of 12/13/14 hour study days and that’s just not healthy (especially when a lot of it is more making oneself busy than actually being productive/getting stuff done)… Quantifying productivity in this way sets unrealistic and unhealthy standards… This is something that seems to have improved recently though so I’m hopeful – but studytubers can only minimise clickbait or make more balanced content after they’ve appeased the YouTube algorithm initially!”

When extreme study videos provide better SEO and clickbait is favoured by the Youtube algorithm, as Abigail said, is it any wonder content creators are making content like this?

That, however, does not make normalising this kind of toxic productivity ethical.

Any influencer/Youtuber churning out content of this nature, must I feel, be having open discussions about mental health and toxic productivity (I wrote a piece about this for Wessex Scene if you are interested in my thoughts).

There has, in recent years – as touched on by many of the people we spoke to – been a shift in the type of content being created by these content creators. As they have grown up, or if they came to making these videos later like Eve Cornwell, their content has become more genuine and realistic, with the stress of higher education being shown for what it really is, and alternative ways of learning have been highlighted, rather than just a constant grind. They are also far more open about their social lives, showing that they are not just study machines, but instead, rounded, balanced people. They are chaotic students, normal twenty somethings, like the rest of us, they just have a following of kids trying to find their path in academia.

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Imy Brighty-Potts

I am the founder and editor of The Hysteria Collective, poetry writer, play lover and Philosophy and Politics graduate. Hobbies include wine, cheese and coffee. @imybrightypotts on Twitter. @imyiswriting on Instagram.

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