Some Surprises about Study Habits

August 7, 2012 in culture, psychology

Recently I dug up an old New York Times article that I wanted to re-read. I’m doing a little research on techniques that might help my new group of GED students that I’ll be tutoring in the weeks ahead (I’m a literacy/GED volunteer teacher). I decided this article was definitely worth posting on–especially with homeschoolers in mind.

Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits by Benedict Carey

The author covers some recent findings which “directly contradict much of the common wisdom about good study habits.” I’ll give you a brief rundown–

  • Varying the place where a person studies improves retention.  Students who studied the same subject matter in different environments showed improved test scores over students who studied continually in the same place. So having the one perfect place where you always go to study…not so perfect!
  • The learning-styles approach within education lacks any substantial foundation. One researcher goes so far as to say that “the enormous popularity of the learning-styles approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing.” I must admit to being more than a little surprised on this one, and though I didn’t muss with different learning style approaches back when I was homeschooling, I have some mom friends who swear that it was finding out about learning styles that “got Johnny through 3rd grade” or the like. Katherine, for instance, watched a virtual transformation in her son’s comprehension when she put his books on audio tape because he was an “auditory learner.” My friend Ellen claims her son just couldn’t catch on to reading until she switched to a kinesthetic method and began “writing” letters and words on his back with her finger, among other exercises. The author of the article quoted several studies, but in my opinion, the jury is still out on this one. I guess I have too many counter-testimonials rumbling around in my brain.
  • Varying the subject matter during an extended study time has been found to be more productive than studying only one subject for the same period of time. (So much for cramming!) Similarly, one study found students retained their math problems much more effectively if different kinds of problems are served up in the lesson rather than if the lesson dealt with just one type. In one experiement, “The children who had studied mixed sets did twice as well as the others, outscoring them 77 percent to 38 percent.” I thought immediately of Saxon Math which my own kids used and which varies the problems within each daily exercise. Turns out Mr. Saxon’s approach is backed by this latest research.
  • Forgetting is your friend. This last finding was my favorite but I suppose it is the student’s bane because it leads to giving the student more tests. The reason is that if we learn something (for test #1), then forget it, and then we must re-learn it (for test #2), we are more likely to remember it longer than if we simply studied it several times over (for 1 test only). It’s the forgetting that helps. Supposedly the brain exercise of learning, forgetting, re-learning is more powerful than just learning, learning, learning. Interesting, right?

So forget everything you just read! Then go read the full article so you can re-learn it after forgetting it and have better recall. You’ll find the article brings out other interesting applications for each of the above findings.

Also, if you like “shocking” studies–READ NURTURE SHOCK. It’s my standard baby gift now. The studies are guarranteed to surprise you and it’s one of my all time favorites.