What’s the Best Way to Study?


Thanks to volavale, who took this photo. Find the original at: //www.flickr.com/photos/volavale/354005950At Manhattan GMAT, we spend a good deal of time thinking about education. We’re committed to the highest quality of teaching, and we’re always interested in the latest pedagogical developments. And so, lately, this interesting article from the New York Times has been making the rounds in our office.

The piece contends that much of the conventional wisdom about study habits has little basis in reality. For example, it’s often assumed students should commit to a particular workspace. But recent research has found individuals actually remember more material when they alternate rooms while studying. It’s also more helpful to work on a range of distinct (but related) skills in a single study session, rather than narrowing your focus to one topic. What we think is happening here is that, when the outside context is varied, the information is enriched, and this slows down forgetting, says one scientist.

What do our instructors say? Stacey Koprince tells us:

We’ve known for a long time that making multiple “connections” while studying helps us to store and retrieve information more effectively. It’s fascinating that the researchers have extended this to the physical location in which you make the connections – apparently, we even make connections based upon things we see around us while we’re studying the information.

In fact, these findings support advice we already give students: Vary how you study within a single study session, and study via many shorter study sessions rather than a few long ones. As the article points out, musicians do a combination of scales, musical pieces and rhythmic work when they practice, while athletes’ workouts typically mix strength, speed and skill drills. Stacey recommends:

Do some reading in a certain area, or watch a short lesson, then do some practice problems that touch on the same material (but may also include other things), then spend some time reviewing those problems. During your review, go back to any necessary sources when you need to check or refresh something; the more you do this, the more connections you’ll make. Once or twice a week, do a mix of random problems (and more often as you get closer to the test); this allows you to practice figuring out what’s in front of you in the first place.

Stacey did find one of the article’s points a bit dubious, however”the suggestion that there may not be different learning styles.

The one thing that I’m a bit skeptical about is the proposal that there might not be different learning styles. From personal experience, I know that I learn certain things better in certain ways. Recently, I took a French immersion course (3 to 5 hours of French every day for three weeks). When we reviewed vocabulary orally, I didn’t retain anywhere near as much as I did when the teacher gave us a hand-out or I looked up the word myself. It was mostly new information and I personally make much better connections when I see new info written down. On the other hand, because I know English grammar so well, I was able to base my French grammar connections on similarities and differences between the two languages; here, I benefited more from an oral discussion because I could ask immediate questions to clarify my understanding (and so make better connections).

There you have it: Train like an athlete, but base your studies on your unique needs.

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