Saturday, September 11, 2010

Turning the Tables on Study Habits

Have you ever wondered whether it's more effective to study in the same place night after night or to change locations frequently? Should you focus on one subject per study session, doing mugging for that physics exam tonight and the project work for prof comm tomorrow, or split things up across various evenings?

This article from The New York Times,  "Forget What You Know about Good Study Habits," gets at the heart of study habits in a lucid manner. Invoking recent research while dispelling old myths, author Benedict Carey leads you through the library, into your favorite spot in the student lounge, back to your room in the residence hall and right up to your work desk --- then out again, and provides fine detail on an activity that takes up far too much of your time.

So you better get it right!



Yong Feng said...

I can relate to the part about studying twice versus studying once and then having a test. I agree with the writer that the latter is more effective for long term.

However, with the increasing number of quizzes and tests these days, there is the issue of information overload. Thus I wonder how effective is the retention rate of information for young people nowadays, even if you were to study once and be tested once.

Xi Xi said...

The crux of the argument seems to be that the conventional study habits should be replaced by newer ones.
However, "mixing content" is a strategy suggested by many people and it belongs to conventional study habits.

I am not sure I agree with the argument that shifting places facilitates better learning because we still need to take into account the trouble of carrying all the study materials around, from residential hall to library, then to an outdoor bench, then to a computer lab, and then back to residential hall. At least for me, it is way too troublesome. I would prefer to a fixed private workspace everyday.

I think for study skills, we really need to experiment with ourselves. After going through so many years of education, one would have experienced what kind of study habits fit themselves better.

The research findings could act as a reference. But taking all the limitations of the statistics offered, I could not be convinced by the conclusions of this research.

Talking about research, I am increasingly upset by the contradicting results they have reached. One research states that tomato is good for your health, another one says it is not. These contradictory are quite commonplace in today's research arena. I guess we could just take them with a pinch of salt and not blindly follow the "experts".

Brad Blackstone said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sheila Koh said...

I am quite surprised to learn that the experiment concluded that we can retain information better when we study at different places.

I'm unable to focus if i'm not sitting in front of my study table, in my room, with my door closed. This explains why i've never camped in the library before exam.

All the while i thought that i'm normal, especially when sitting in one place to study is considered a good study habit. Now i begin to wonder if i'm an anomaly.

Stephanie said...

This is a big blow to what I have always held as being true. Research has indeed shown that students retrieve information better when they recall and learn it at a similar place. Somehow, the human mind keeps springing surprises as to what it can really do. I think we should study in a way that works best for ourselves. And what works best for one person may not for another. So we have to do 'trial and error' like what the article mentioned, instead of taking a research findings as hard and fast rules. I think cramming seriously works in secondary school (sometimes jc), but in university, especially for science modules, it is impossible! One of the ingenious way my classmate takes down notes is to write it in a different way than what the lecturer is saying. she decodes the message on-the-spot, and encodes it in a way that she remembers best. Quite awesome.

Brad Blackstone said...

Thanks, guys, for your comments.

You're right, XiXi, each person really needs to learn what study method works best for her. There is no ONE way to do it. In your comments, you evaluate the author's position quite critically, taking nothing for granted. I like that.

Yong Feng, info overload is definitely an issue for many students. How do you counter that?

Yong Feng said...

To counter information overload, I think it's important to know how to differentiate the more important things from the less important ones. Our brain should have some sort of a 'virtual filter', such that not all the information will go through unscanned.

Of course, being able to judge the level of importance would mean the individual knows how to priorize his/her work. This again, is another skill which I guess most of us are still trying to grasp.

Muhamad Ali Saifudin said...

Hi. Mr. Brad. I am Muhamad Ali Saifudin from East Java Banyuwangi. I was one of your participants joining your workshop in Untag Banyuwangi. You did a great job to motivate teachers in Banyuwangi especially using the ICT to teach and learn English. you have opened their mind to have a creative way to teach their students. Keep in touch

the unknown said...

study skills r personalized.
aint a silver bullet.

they always forget to include what kinda ppl can benefit from which skill.

it's like saying, maths is good for ya, even to a musical composer that finds maths disruptive to his creative process.

u should give ur evaluation on the recommendation blackstone. at least we know whr u stand.. at the library, or near the cookie jar. lol

howxq said...


Tks for sharing. It is really useful for students like us. But I agree with Xi Xi that each student have their own unique way of studying. Having said that, I tried the method in the article about varying your locations of studying. For now, it did work for me.

Tks do much :)

yuen may said...

I actually found myself agreeing quite strongly with the article. Varying one's study location does (sometimes) help, and having little tests along the way DEFINITELY helps drill in the information. Likewise if you had to learn something 'the hard way', it'd definitely stay with you for life. An example I recall was when one of my Junior College classmates misused the word 'fetish' (he thought it meant liking for/inclination towards/fancy), shouting it out loudly during a class-discussion. The teacher made a big deal about it, the whole class had a good laugh, and the poor guy will now never misuse that word again.

Even in an everyday context, isn't information one personally sources for harder to forget than bullet points printed in one's lecture notes? I feel it's all about taking an active approach to learning, rather than passively 'going through the motions'. Because after a while, routine becomes so...well, routine...that you no longer learn anything new when you sit and stare at that familiar textbook. Either that, or productivity gradually decreases.

I recall I tried quite a few different study locations while preparing for exams in the past. Once even sitting at my washing machine (in the kitchen!) Haha! But of course I didn't move ALL my study materials/stationery was just one set of notes in hand. And it was actually pretty effective.

To address XiXi's point about research, the nature of science is such that we will never know it all, we simply make little discoveries everyday. A tomato may be good for your health because it is rich in Vitamin A, but this may be of little consequence to you if your regular diet already includes lots of Vitamin A from other sources (and hence it would seem that eating tomatoes did nothing for your health, whether you ate them or not). Haha! Don't worry, XiXi! Have faith that these researchers know what they're doing...well, most of them anyway. Just take what you feel is useful, and don't bother about the rest. Haha, there is so much research being done on virtually EVERYTHING out there...we're bound to encounter differing opinions/results/findings! (possibly due to the analysis of different aspects of a single thing) It's ok! Don't discount anything just yet...experiment on your own, and try them out! (:

Min Hau Ong said...

This is absolutely true! In fact, I read a similar article long time ago. I tried and found that it enhanced my ability in studying.

However, we should be wise to choose places for studying. They are places where we just simply cannot concentrate on reading a book. For example, the temperature at some libraries is too low for me to study. Everyone has different taste, I would like to suggest students to choose some places you think suitable for you to study, instead of following others to a particular place just because they told you that the place is the best.

Eunice Chew said...

I really enjoyed reading the article and found truth in what was written. Interestingly, research has shown that the retention of what we learn is much lower if we study a particular subject rather than studying several different topics at once. From my experience, I realized that as I study a particular topic at once, I lose interest in the subject and even get "burnt out" from studying it, despite my initial interest. As a result, this explains my low retention rate of learning. However, this is often done in schools where we have TYS known as Ten-Year-Series. We try to do the same topic for all ten years worth of exam paper so much so that when we read the question, we can even close our eyes and do. Taking into consideration that every individual has different learning style, is this method of learning a beneficial one? I leave it for the readers to judge. Cheers!