How to Get the Most Out of Your Study Time

homework

Clear a quiet work space. Stick to a regimented homework schedule. Set clear boundaries.

Those are some of the “tried-and-true” recommendations for studying, but they may not be best for everyone. As the New York Times has reported, “In recent years, cognitive scientists have shown that a few simple techniques can reliably improve what matters most: how much a student learns from studying.”

Here are four of the techniques that NY Times psychology writer Benedict Carey gleaned from this recent educational research into study habits – you might be surprised at what he found.

Get a change of scenery. While it may seem like staying in one place will help you to concentrate, researchers have found that alternating the rooms where you are studying can actually help you retain more information. “If you move around and study the same material in several places, [your brain] may be forming multiple associations,” writes Carey. This, he says, helps anchor the new information so that it’s easier to remember when you need it.

Alternate the content you are studying. Just as in physical exercise, “cross training” is also good for your brain. While a fitness trainer might suggest you alternate strength training, speed training and drills, you could adapt this idea to studying. Researchers examined math students who studied repeated examples of one equation before moving on to the next equation, and compared them to students who studied “mixed problem sets,” which included examples of four different types of equations grouped together. They found that the students who had used the “mixed set” study method retained more information when tested the following day.

As University of South Florida researcher Dr. Doug Rohrer told the NY Times, “When students see a list of problems, all of the same kind, they know the strategy to use before they even read the problem. That’s like riding a bike with training wheels.” He adds that with “mixed practice,” each problem is distinct from the last one, which means that students need to learn how to choose the appropriate procedure, just as they would have to do on a test.

Avoid the urge to cram. Staying up all night to study for a test might help you pass an exam, but it won’t help you remember the material later on. As Carey notes, it’s like trying to cram too much, too quickly into a cheap suitcase – while it may stay intact for a little while, the contents inevitably fall out.

You’ll get more out of your studies if you pack your “brain suitcase” slowly and carefully. An hour of study one night, an hour over the weekend, another study session the following week will help you better retain the information – and keep the suitcase packed for your whole trip. And don’t forget the importance of sleep. Research has consistently shown that a good night’s rest helps the brain consolidate and process new information.

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