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Six study habits to avoid and adopt

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013 1:00 p.m. CDT

No matter what age or academic level, employing effective studying strategies can make all the difference between acing a class, barely passing, or worse, failing miserably. Unfortunately, many of today’s most common study methods can lead to utter disappointment despite best efforts and intentions. In fact, recent research out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison found many popular study habits are not beneficial at all, and in some cases, are actually detrimental.

This year, ditch the surprisingly shoddy study habits and utilize proven effective and emerging technology-based strategies as building blocks to get ahead — in school, and ultimately, in life.

With this in mind, EdTech authority and academic futurist Ashish Rangnekar, CEO of BenchPrep, offers this insight on six unexpectedly bad study habits to avoid and six good-sense study habits sure to keep students on track toward academic success.

Six study habits students should change immediately:

• Studying at home: Studying at home might be convenient and easy, but there are way too many distractions lurking around the residence. Maybe it's a talkative roommate, the TV, texts and the lure of Facebook, or the growing pile of clothes that are just begging to be washed. Any of these can break concentration and make studying less effective. Consider going to the library and finding a quiet room or desk away from all of these diversions.

• Listening to music: The benefits of listening to music while studying have been argued time after time. Although classical music was once believe to increase spatial abilities and improve learning, subsequent research was not able to support this theory. In fact, recent studies show music may actually impair cognitive abilities and hinder memorization because of the changing words and notes in songs. Studying in silence or amid a little white noise will not distract from thinking and can help a student concentrate without the disruption of lyrics and changing tempos.

• Procrastinating: Every student is guilty of procrastination at one time or another, but just because it's common behavior doesn't mean it's acceptable. Procrastination can lead to doing things halfway and not retaining as much information as necessary to ace that exam. If a student is pulling frequent all-nighters or rushing in fire-drill mode to finish every essay or project, then it is time to work on time management skills and a schedule earlier, and calmer, study sessions.

• Not making an outline: If a student is not making outlines while studying or writing a paper, then the results most likely will not be the intended grade. There are many reasons to make an outline. It helps to keep track of large amounts of information, organize ideas and present the class material in a logical way. Instead of trying to reread a textbook or write an essay from scratch, make an outline to organize thoughts and study more effectively.

• Highlighting the textbook: Some study advice books recommend reading a textbook and marking the pages with a neon highlighter as the best way to study for an upcoming exam, but in actuality, this is one of the least effective ways for students to remember content. Instead of coloring entire pages with highlighters and trying to reread the text, a student can quiz themselves on the material they just read. This will help to retain more information and score higher on exams.

• Pulling all-nighters: Many at the high school and college level are particularly guilty of it, but staying up all night cramming for an exam has been shown to do very little good for test preparation or performance. Not only does sleep deprivation turn students into zombies, but it also takes a serious toll on happiness and overall well-being. The best way to avoid pulling all-nighters is to study ahead of time. It's easier said than done, but the only way to avoid pulling an all-nighter besides not studying at all. Dedicate a few days a week (or more) to study and review the material to avoid trying to cram everything into that brain in one night.

Six good study habits for academic success:

• Pay attention to study location: Find a quiet, uncluttered, distraction-free area away from the residence, and try a few locations until the ideal study place is discovered. Different spots may work for different subjects, too! Whatever the location, leverage powerful new mobile, interactive study solutions that allow high school and college students to better prepare for tests and course work through any portable device from anywhere, at any time. Such engagement helps students better prepare and minimizes stress, providing everything needed to study in one place, including hundreds of practice questions, detailed explanations, guided study plans, and high-quality reading content from the world's most respected publishers.

• Vary study topics: Psychologists say alternating study topics rather than cramming on a specific one in a single session leaves a deeper impression on the brain. So, don’t grind on the same subject all night. Change it up, take breaks and re-visit the material in intervals — even spacing over a period of days if possible, which has been proven to enhance retention even further.

• Make information meaningful: Whether it's creating rhymes or patterns, or even relating material to something else perhaps through word or scenario associations, such tactics can make information more meaningful and will enhance information recollection. The University of Maryland reports mnemonic devices, or memory tricks, are particularly useful for remembering factual information like names, dates, formulas, or other information that requires rote memorization.

• Tap online resources: Don’t get stuck on a problem or resigned to an ill-fated grade in a difficult class as there are powerful resources at a student’s fingertips. For example, companies like Academic Earth offer a comprehensive online collection of free video tutorials for college courses — all accessible at no cost. Other companies like OpenStudy enable Internet users to readily connect and engage with other students who are learning the same subjects at the same time — regardless of school, expertise or location — facilitating online, on-demand peer-to-peer assistance, support and other helpful interactions.

• Engage in social learning: Research has found that there is a benefit to studying with friends. In one recent study from the Jacobs School of Engineering at the University of California San Diego, it was revealed “the higher the volume of interaction, the more likely the students were willing to exchange information in more complex ways and with greater frequency, forming ‘information cascades,’ a mechanism that spreads information from a single source to one or multiple sources.” The data showed the higher the scores of the students, the higher the percentage of their interactions that were constant.

• Have a great study attitude: Think positive and focus on skills. Rather than dreading the experience, thinking positive will make the time to study easier to approach and mindshare won’t be expended on feeling resentful. In fact, “study attitudes” was identified in research as one of four pillars that “play a critical and central role in determining students’ academic performance.” In short, study time is a friend. Regard it that way, and soon enough, any student can look forward to a productive, self-fulfilled academic experience.

“Ultimately, students should identify their own study preferences—what works for them on a consistent basis — and act accordingly,” Rangnekar notes. “For example, some students study better in the morning or can better focus in smaller chunks of time rather than a marathon session. Knowing exactly what does and does not work on a personal level, even tracking study patterns and correlating it with related grades, and then proactively creating a study plan and schedule around the proven effective methods, is the most powerful study tool of all."

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