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The Study Space

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Studying

One of the follies of over-eager college freshmen is not being efficient with time and energy: many overexert themselves over assignments or study methods that do not produce any viable results. Despite seeing subpar performances, many students fall into the temptation of routine, repeating the same process which yielded very little result and failing to adapt their habits to meet the demand of the classes. Part of the problem is not knowing what methods generate the best and worst results; therefore, students who are struggling might not even realize the method they are reliant on is doing more harm than good.

In this article, I will outline and highlight some wasteful tactics as well as some effectual ones. Although I have not tried every method on this list, I will be using studies, data, and psychological concepts to distinguish the good from the bad.

The Ugly: Re-reading

One of the most, if not the most, ineffecient study strategy is re-reading material, yet it is one of the most common study strategies for new college and university students.

Admittedly, I have used this method countless times during high school, especially in my social science classes. One of the very few benefits of this method is its ability to familiarize the student with the material; however, that is about all this method can do. For high school social science and, even, humanities classes, memorizing terms is the main objective, but, for college science classes, the student would need a profound grasp of the topics presented. This is where the re-reading method fails: simply knowing that entropy is the “messiness” of the universe doesn’t get the student any closer to solving for entropy or applying the concept of entropy to unique problem sets.

Person reading book
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This experience is not unique to me. In a 2009 study, re-reading did not correlate with an increase in test scores even for participants with high reading comprehension: in fact, the same study finds re-reading to be counterproductive for those with high comprehension: these particular participants do worse after a second reading [1].

In order to benefit from reading, consider doing activities which help process the materials that you read, like a flow chart or comparison chart. This will help you understand and add significance to the material you learn, making it more memorable.

The Bad: Copying Practice Problems

Person copying homework.
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Doing practice problems is a great way to study, especially for mathematical science classes: in fact, this is precisely why homework assignments for these classes are so important. Many, however, have a faulty approach. Instead of solving practice problems independently, some students will copy the solution from the internet. Although the answer to the problem is correct, the experience and, more importantly, the learning process is robbed.

Homework and practice problems are supposed to help cement recall, the process through which the brain retrieves stored information. A certain sequence of brian cell work together to recall and retrieve information, and, by constantly exercising recall, the connection between the neurons in this network strengthen. Thus, recalling gets easier and easier with more and more practice. The ultimate goal, of course, is when recall becomes so natural that it resembles muscle memory, and this is the ideal situation during stressful assessments. Copying the solutions to homework assignments is much quicker and easier, but it does not allow the student to practice recall and build the necessary neural network.

The Good: Teaching

Like correctly, independently doing practice problems, teaching your peers also helps exercise recall; however, it is a bit better since it adds reason to the madness.

Person teaching friend.
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When you are teaching your friend, you are reaching into your information storage and pulling out relevant information just as you would for a practice problem and on a test, but to teach is to also answer more fundamental questions, such as why or how. Providing answers to these questions help cement the fact in your mind: you’re not simply memorizing a process; you thoroughly understand why that process exists.

This is how I mainly studied for general chemistry. My friends would come to me and ask me to elaborate on material they learned in class, and I would sit down with them, explaining the intricacies and reasons behind the concepts.

Take, for example, bond formation. Why is it that metallic and non-metallic elements have different bonding properties? The quick answer would be that metallic and non-metallic elements are held together by metallic bonds while two non-metallic elements are held together by covalent bonds. Learning this statement is memorizing a fact. Instead, I explained why these bonds form the way they do: metallic bonds are like magnets with the metallic metal as the positive end and non-metallic as the negative end, while the electrons of two non-metallic elements come together to form a rope and hold the two elements together. By explaining or forming analogies, the person I am teaching as well as myself can learn instead of memorize.

Work Cited Callender, Aimee & Mcdaniel, Mark. (2009). The limited benefits of rereading educational texts. Contemporary Educational Psychology. 34. 30-41. 10.1016/j.cedpsych.2008.07.001.