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. But they directly contradict much of the common wisdom about good study habits, and they have not caught on.
According to a new NY Times article, most of what you know about studying is wrong. (First of all, are you using Slader yet? That’ll solve most of your math-related issues.) What can you do differently? Psychological studies have shown that:
- Studying in different locations can improve recall. If you only study calculus while at your kitchen table, the brain associates calculus with your kitchen (and maybe with your parents). But if you study in several places, the brain has to remember what a derivative is both at your kitchen table and at your best friend’s kitchen table. You have a better chance of remembering derivatives on your next test, and let’s face it - your friend’s house always has better snacks anyway.
- Concentrating on just one topic won’t improve your understanding. If you’re having trouble with the area of a parallelogram, mix up the types of problems you’re studying. A broader survey of the material will force your brain to work around that one confusing equation that you have trouble with.
- Space out your studying. You can actually study less and remember more - if you follow a schedule and make sure to study a certain amount a week. Of course, cramming always helps right before the big test. But if you’re on Slader once or twice a week, reading through your problems and understanding what’s going on, that’s much better than a marathon study session two days before the final.
The claims that the article makes are interesting, especially the ending argument: “The harder it is to remember something, the harder it is to later forget.” Uh, I’m pretty sure that I can sing every single song on ‘N Sync’s discography, and I don’t remember anything from my spring physics course (except physicists are ridiculous - have you ever dropped something in a vacuum?). Regardless, if you’re looking to improve your study skills this winter, try out the above tips. Your brain will thank you.