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New Study Habits for College Students

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Sage study advice has included finding a good place to study and immersing yourself in one skill or type of content at a time. Also, a typical college study habit has been cramming for exams. If you want to study the right way in college to increase your chance for a better GPA, don’t do any of the above!

So what should you do? What are the best ways to study? Based on research by cognitive scientists, here are some truly sage pieces of academic advice.

1. Do not study in one location, even if it’s quiet and well-suited. Students who study the same material in different settings, both good and bad, retain more information. Why? The theory is the brain associates what is being studied with background sensations. Forcing the brain to make multiple associations with surroundings and what is being studied increases recall ability.

2. Do not immerse yourself in one type of material or skill in one sitting. Instead, alternate what you study. For example, study vocabulary with reading and leaning to speak a new language rather than studying only vocabulary. Like athletes who mix up practice of strength and speed and skill in one workout, you learn different strategies instead of one. Then when presented with a problem (or a test), you have a menu to choose from in order to do better. If you have to identify the painting styles of several artists, you will be able to do so more easily if you have looked at several artists at once rather than looking at several paintings of one artist, then another, and then another.

3. Do not study by cramming for exams. The better method is to study an hour one night, an hour over the weekend, an hour later the next week—spacing your studying. This method of study improves recall. Although it is not known why this is so definitely, scientists believe recall is better because each time you study, recall is necessary, reinforcing your learning.

Cognitive scientists have found learning style (verbal, visual, kinesthetic, etc.) and teaching style (lecture, discussion, group work, etc.) make little difference in learning, but they know individual study habits do matter when informed by these 3 principles. Knowing how to study can make you an academic star in college.