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Why 'good' study habits may be bad for learning
Forget everything you know about how to study effectively — new findings suggest a lot of it is wrong
 
Have we been teaching kids the wrong ways to study?
Have we been teaching kids the wrong ways to study?
Corbis

Everyone knows how to get your kid successfully in a homework frame of mind, says Benedict Carey at The New York Times. "Clear a quiet work space. Stick to a homework schedule. Set goals. Set boundaries. Do not bribe." But this approach to home studying may be the result of "sketchy education research" and, as such, completely wrong. Parents might be best to ignore "schoolyard folk wisdom" and heed the following counterintuitive tips, gleaned from the recent findings of cognitive scientists:

1. Forget finding a regular study place
Rather than sticking to a single study location, "alternating the room where a person studies" can improve retention, reports Carey. Studies found that students learning a list of words in two different rooms remembered them better than students learning in a single room. 

2. Don't stick to one subject
Anyone who has ever trained athletically knows that workouts are greatly improved by mixing strength, speed and skills training. Well, the brain works like that too, says Carey. Varying the study topics in a single session "seems to leave a deeper impression on the brain than does concentrating on just one skill at a time."

3. You have to forget something before you learn it
While "honest-to-goodness" cramming can get you a good grade, admits Carey, it will not help students retain information. Spacing out the hours in which you study greatly improves later recall — even if that means forgetting some of what you learn. "Forgetting is the friend of learning," psychologist Nate Kornell tells the Times. "When you forget something, it allows you to relearn, and do so effectively, the next time you see it."

4. More tests, not fewer
Although many parents dislike constant testing because of the stress it imposes on their children, says Carey, it is one of the most powerful means of learning material. Difficult tests are the best. "The harder it is to remember something, the harder it is to later forget." Testing can also inspire confidence, adds Maureen Downey at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. One student I know said that before he saw his decent test scores, he never even considered going to college. The result of his tests proved "he was smart and could be a good student."

5. Don't drink coffee while studying — unless you plan to drink it before the test
Inspired by Carey's article, Maia Szalavitz at Time advises that "learning is, to a large extent, 'state dependent.'" If you are anxious, happy, or even drunk when you learn something, "you will remember it better if you are in that same state again when you are tested for what you've learned." While getting intoxicated before an exam is hardly a good idea, it is advisable to "match your studying and test-taking emotional states" with milder stimulants such as caffeine. 

6. Stay away from Facebook
It's hardly counterintuitive, but new research says students who use Facebook while studying get significantly lower grades than those who don't use the social networking site. A study of 219 students at an American university found that Facebook users typically had a grade point average of 3.06 while non-users had an average GPA of 3.82. File this one under O for Obvious, says Darren Allan at TechWatch. It's hardly news that kids who are "obsessed with status updates and photo tagging last night’s party snaps" do worse at exams than those who are able to concentrate for an hour or two.

 

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