BY MELISSA BURNS
Alt Title: Are There Any Myths About Effective Studying?
Studying is one of your most important fundamental tools for success in college. It’s not enough to merely attend classes; you need to do the readings, go over your notes, and truly absorb what you’re learning.
There are hundreds of study tips floating around out there, and some of them are pretty good. For example, you may have heard that studying as a group is often more effective than studying alone, or that taking notes by hand is more effective at helping you form and retain memories associated with that subject matter.
However, there are also some popular myths about studying that sound good and are easy to believe, but they might actually interfere with your ability to learn.
Studying Tips You Shouldn’t Take
Adults and other students might suggest using these study tips to improve your performance, but you’re better off passing on them:
- Using memorization tricks. There are lots of tricks you can use to memorize information, such as relying on mnemonic devices, or using flash cards to drill new associations. However, memorization is a technique that leads to temporary retention; as soon as the test is over, you’ll probably forget whatever you learned. Remember, college is a place to truly learn and absorb information—not just store it long enough to regurgitate it on an exam. Devote your time to learning and understanding your subject matter, rather than cheaply memorizing it.
- Allowing pressure to improve your performance. This tip, like some of the others on this list, has a grain of truth to it. In some situations, people tend to perform better under pressure; for example, athletes perform better in high-stakes games because of higher adrenaline and focus. However, this doesn’t apply to studying. Increasing pressure by procrastinating your studies gives you less time to fully absorb the information you’re reviewing, and the increased stress will make it harder for you to focus on what you’re doing. Plus, you may stay up late, missing out on sleep, which is one of the most important precursors to forming new memories.
- Focusing solely on time spent studying. Have you ever heard a fellow student brag about how much time they spent studying? Or heard a professor recommend you spend an hour every night reviewing the material covered in class? It’s true that you should dedicate a minimum amount of time for studying—that way, it doesn’t fall out of your routine—but time alone doesn’t tell you how effectively you studied, or how much information you retained. One person may be more productive in an hour than another person is in three.
- Studying in the same place every time. Consistency is important for studying effectively; studying for an hour after class, every day, can help you create a good rhythm and hammer in details related to your classes. However, studying in the same place every day can grow tiresome. Instead, it’s better to study in new locations, with new sensory experiences, which will help you form new memories and keep the studying process interesting.
- Studying only one concept at a time. Again, there’s a grain of truth here; human beings are notoriously bad at multitasking. However, if you devote all your time in one session to drilling one specific concept, you may be doing yourself a disservice. It’s better to learn incrementally, exposing yourself to a concept in brief chunks, many times over an extended period, compared to only exposing yourself to a concept once, in a big chunk. For that reason, it’s often better to study small bits of multiple concepts in each session.
- Avoiding studying too early. That incremental, frequent exposure is also valuable when attempting to time your studying habits. Some people will suggest that you avoid studying too early; after all, if you study six weeks before an exam, you might forget everything by the time the exam rolls around, right? This might be true if you spend your efforts temporarily memorizing the information, but if you’re focused on learning and internalizing the information, studying earlier is actually better—it gives you more time and more opportunities to store that information as a permanent memory.
A Note on Experimentation
All the tips in this article are presented in terms of their average effectiveness, and those conclusions are relatively accurate for most people. However, everyone studies a bit differently, and has different studying preferences. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different studying styles, trying different approaches and environments, until you find a pattern that works specifically for you; just treat any new tips you receive with a degree of skepticism, and don’t let confirmation bias cloud your judgment on what works and what doesn’t.
Melissa Burns graduated from the faculty of Journalism of Iowa State University. Nowadays she is an entrepreneur and independent journalist. Follow her @melissaaburns or contact at email@example.com