Several decades ago I was involved in teacher training and taught educational psychology at the university level. A few traditional notions about good study habits were floating around, but unfortunately most had no evidence to support them. At best they were commonly held beliefs among most teachers, parents and students.
And today all these years later I find that my grandchildren are subjected to the same notions. The only difference is that now there is a lot more evidence that much of the traditional advice is just plain wrong. Let’s do something about it…
Fallacy number one: have one quiet place set aside where you can do homework and study.
I was brought up believing that. However the research evidence is that you retain much more of what you learn if you study in a variety of locations. Apparently the learning, mostly unconsciously, gets associated with many different environmental cues, and that more deeply embeds the learning in your brain. Thus increasing study skills.
My advice: make a point of studying in the coffee shop, at the beach, at school, at the kitchen table, with a friend and with music. The point is the more variety in your study environment, the better your retention.
Fallacy number two: have a set study time.
I had to study every night after dinner. The research again is clear: studying at several different times, rather than in one block of time, provides for more effective learning.
My advice: if you need two hours for homework and study, do 20 minutes in the school cafeteria, another half hour right after school, a few minutes before dinner, 45 minutes after dinner, a few minutes before bed and a wrap-up while you are eating breakfast. This won’t work, of course, if you put off the homework until all you have left is a small block of time. So plan it and keep a log. The log will also help increase your study skills.
Fallacy number three: focus on one subject until you’re done and then move on to the next subject.
I recall feeling bad that I couldn’t handle this very well. Fortunately, the evidence now is that learning is deeper and more lasting if you move from subject to subject, mixing them up a bit.
My advice: jump around from subject to subject, not in a fixed order, but spend the same amount of time on each subject that you would have spent had you done them one at a time. You will remember better what you have studied. This strategy is particularly easy for anyone like me with a bit of ADHD. This is one place where ADHD provides an advantage.
These are the three big fallacies we need to challenge. But there are other things you can do to make your learning better. Make a point of getting some of your learning by reading, some by watching videos/demos, some by listening to audios, teachers and experts, and some by doing.
Whether you are a grade four student, a high school senior,or a university graduate student, challenge the outdated notions about study and find the mix that works best for you. After all, it’s your brain where what you studied will stick… or not.
Warning to younger students: you may raise some parental fear until they see your grades improving.