Rethinking how to study

The New York Times highlights recent research that suggests older methods or habits for studying may not be worthwhile. Instead, there are new suggestions for studying that haven’t yet caught on:

[P]sychologists have discovered that some of the most hallowed advice on study habits is flat wrong. For instance, many study skills courses insist that students find a specific place, a study room or a quiet corner of the library, to take their work. The research finds just the opposite…

Varying the type of material studied in a single sitting — alternating, for example, among vocabulary, reading and speaking in a new language — seems to leave a deeper impression on the brain than does concentrating on just one skill at a time. Musicians have known this for years, and their practice sessions often include a mix of scales, musical pieces and rhythmic work. Many athletes, too, routinely mix their workouts with strength, speed and skill drills…

When the neural suitcase is packed carefully and gradually, it holds its contents for far, far longer. An hour of study tonight, an hour on the weekend, another session a week from now: such so-called spacing improves later recall, without requiring students to put in more overall study effort or pay more attention, dozens of studies have found.

These would be worthwhile for any type or stage of learning. While it may be initially difficult to change ingrained habits, switching to new study methods would pay off in the end with improved abilities to retain and utilize knowledge.

Reading about this could lead to some interesting questions regarding how people and students learn or acquire their study habits. Is it an intuitive process that each person needs to figure out for themselves? Do most people simply do what others have told them to do? How often do we assess our own studying/learning habits to determine their effectiveness?

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