Faculty and students suggest ways to optimize study habits

UW-Fox students study in the library. · photo by Vinnie Oestreich

It is common knowledge that college students feel like they spend countless hours every week working on something for school, but whether or not they make a conscious effort to be efficient in how they are using those hours is debatable.

Studies have shown that the exact number of hours a person spends studying every week isn’t the only factor that is likely playing into the grades he or she receives. How efficiently a person is using those hours is also a consideration.

Many things outside of class can be very distracting and have an impact on how much attention students give to their studies. For example, UW-Valley Freshman Derek Hansen admits to having to deal with distractions while studying.

“Having a phone, a job and attempting to have a social life are all things that distract me from wanting to study as much as I probably should,” Hansen said.

According to national statistics, the average student studies less than 10 hours per week for all classes combined, which UW-Fox Valley Associate Professor of Psychology Rex Hieser claims is “inefficient” if a person is actually looking to learn and fully understand the complex material.

“If there was a quick and easy way to get good grades without much work, college students would have worked that out long ago. You have to do the work,” Hieser said.

One huge key to making sure one doesn’t miss out on important material is to consistently attend class.

“I know from experience the importance of attendance and its relationship with your final grade,” UW Oshkosh Senior Grayson Bourke said.

When skipping class, it is very likely that important material will be covered and the potential to fall behind is that much greater.

Combining good class attendance with a study method that helps maximize study time will definitely help in the long run. One popular technique that Hieser recommends is to simply review notes the same day they are taken. When reading over all of the notes that were taken in that day’s lecture a couple of hours later, it increases the chances of actually memorizing or retaining the information.

“This will help strengthen the memory enough that later review before for an exam is much, much easier,” Heiser said.

The reason for this is because it makes the information a lot more familiar than if someone just took notes and waited until test time to review them.

Another study method that Hieser recommends and is fairly easy to implement is to do a “practice quiz” while going over lecture notes. For example, instead of just quickly reading through the notes with the hopes of covering as many of them as possible, try covering up the notes using a piece of paper and begin sliding it down the page, stopping every time a new topic heading is reached. While doing so, try to remember and recall the information that falls underneath, or is relevant to, the topic heading. Continue by revealing the notes under each of the headings, slowly working down the page of notes. By the end of this exercise, there should be a clear breakdown of which topics are more challenging and deserve the most attention as well as which ones won’t need much time dedicated to them.

One of the most common mistakes people make while studying is to think that simple memorization of a word and its definition will do the trick. Many other people also believe that engaging in other things that divide their attention during their studies is a great way to save time while learning the concepts, but multitasking is something that has been proven to be highly inefficient and detrimental to successfully retaining information.

“You can’t engage in two different, simultaneous cognitive tasks which require your conscious attention. You have to jump back and forth between them, and the transition time is wasted, as well as the time wasted on the non-study task,” Heiser said.

So while many people think they are saving an incredible amount of time by doing two or more things at once, they are actually making it harder for themselves to pick up on the materials they are trying to fully understand.

Unfortunately, no study technique is “one size fits all” and it is up to an individual to figure out what works best and is most effective, in terms of earning the grades he or she wants. If a grade in a specific class isn’t as high as they’d like it to be, switching study methods or putting in more effort next time they study for a test may provide better results.