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What does science say about studying?

Updated: Aug 18, 2019

By Alessia Anderson, Year 10

Exam timetables and assessment tasks are currently in full steam. During our busy schedules many girls have adopted multiple study habits in an attempt to memorise content as quick as possible. But… which of these are most effective? This question has led me to discover what the most scientifically strategic approach to studying is…

1. Firstly, research shows that study sessions are most effective in small, short chunks. This is due to your brain’s improved ability to encode information into the synapses in short, repeated sessions as opposed to one large one. Furthermore, prolonged nocturnal study sessions are linked to the lowest grades and memory and reasoning may be negatively affected for up to four days.

2. Maintaining a study schedule at specific times each day, primes your brain by creating a routine, and over time studying will become easier as your brain is trained to learn in those moments.

3. While many of us spend hours passively re-reading out notes or highlighting textbooks, studies show this to be ineffective as it doesn’t improve understanding of topics, nor does it link key concepts together. It can even be detrimental as it draws your attention to less important information. Flash cards, alternatively, are proven to be excellent memory reinforcement tools.

4. Set specific goals for each study session. Instead of aimlessly studying broad topics, pick individual aspects to focus on each session.

5. In studies where individuals were asked to learn a passage, 50% were told they would be tested on the material and the other 50% were told they must each the material to other students, participants expecting to teach performed much better in regard to understanding the main points. This is because, when your brain is expecting to teach, your brain organizes information in a more logical, coherent structure.

6. Pass papers are excellent as they place your brain is a similar environment to the actual exam. Furthermore, if you make mistakes, they help you identify gaps in your knowledge. They have also been shown to increase confidence, thereby leading to better performance.

7. Research shows that having a designated spot for studying equipped with all the tools you will need is ideal. Similar to setting a time schedule, this repeated environment primes your brain for studying.

8. Music? Whilst some studies have shown that certain types of classical music can help improve concentration, learning with rhythmic background noise can be detrimental to focus, and participants in a study which didn’t use music fared much better.

9. Your phone, texts and social media notifications severely decrease concentration so try to put your phone in a different room whilst studying.

10. Reviewing material frequently and overlearning material can enhance memory. Studies show that once you state “I know this material” you should continue to study it for ¼ of the original study time. Furthermore, a student who does not review material can forget 80% of what has been learned in less than 2 weeks.