On Campus

'Learning styles' are bogus

Researchers say moving around while studying improves retention

Every semester I tell myself that I’ll study more. And every semester I don’t.

Somewhere between vowing to study every single day and the act of actually doing it, there’s an interruption. All the planning is in place. But study schedules, lists of course readings and practice problems, somehow aren’t leading to extra studying.

Part of the problem is how midterms always seem to come from nowhere. In that way they’re even worse than final exams, which might be worth more marks, but at least they’re always looming in the distance.

According to an article in the New York Times, cognitive scientists claim a few simple techniques can actually improve how much a student actually learns from studying. Of course, that only helps those students who actually, well, study.

One surprise from the research is the claim that in order to be the most effective, you should actually move around and study in different locations each time you hit the books. And no, the research wasn’t suggesting moving to Hawaii  to study for your biochem final, and then moving back for your French final.

The other studying tips were obvious. Like making sure you space your studying apart so you aren’t forced to try and cram everything at the last second. And if all else fails, praying to the snow gods for the mother of all storms to force the school to shut down on the day of your finals.

The Times’ article pointed out that some of the theories about the best way to study are the result of “sketchy education research that doesn’t offer much clear guidance.”

Lots of studying advice has to do with emphasizing different learning styles- the whole “left brain versus right brain,” and “visual learner versus auditory learner” thing. Some people learn best by reading through their professor’s lecture slides, while others retain more information by listening to podcast lectures. But according to a review of the relevant research published in Psychological Science, that’s all pretty much bogus, stating that “there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning-styles assessments into general educational practice.”

I think the biggest improvement to my studying habits would be constant reminders. Like changing the background of my computer to a message that says “ANATOMY MIDTERM FEBRUARY 14th.” Because midterms are stealth tests- one second I’m happily unaware of their presence, wasting precious study time with things like sleeping and eating.

And the next second a bunch of tests, lab reports, and essays have materialized.

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