There are a number of traps that the majority of students fall into when it comes to their learning. Although they often intend well, myths about how people learn and misconceptions about what actually works can lead them to use ineffective strategies.
We have listed below 10 common things that students do that may actually hinder them more than help them, according to research.
Despite being proven to be one of the most ineffective revision techniques, the popularity of re-reading remains worryingly high. A recent study reported that 84% of students re-read their notes during revision, whilst 55% classified it as their number one strategy.
Only re-reading notes is such a poor technique because students end up skim reading the text, meaning that they fail to actually process or consider the content. This means it doesn’t end up in their long-term memory.
A much more effective strategy would be to use retrieval practice, also known as the Testing Effect. This consists in students generating answers to question, in order to train their ability to recall the material. You can find out more about retrieval practice here.
- Skipping breakfast
Over 60% of teenage boys and 70% of teenage girls skip breakfast despite it being the most important meal of the day. Not eating breakfast has been demonstrated to have a detrimental impact on attention and memory. In one particular study, students who skipped breakfast or only had an energy drink performed significantly worse in attention and memory tasks when compared to those who ate breakfast. There are many benefits to making sure students have breakfast in the morning – you can find 7 of them here.
- Revising to Music
Many students mistakenly believe that listening to their favourite songs helps them revise, simply because it can enhance their motivation and improve their mood. However, recent research found that students who revised in a quiet environment performed over 50% better in an exam than those who revised listening to music with lyrics.
- Trying to complete homework in sight of their phone
Multi-tasking is a myth. Many students believe that they can efficiently focus on several things at once, such that they can complete their homework, whilst also using their mobile phone. However, multi-tasking is impossible and causes students to make errors, as well as reducing their productivity: it simply wastes their time and energy switching from one task to another.
- Taking notes in class verbatim
In lessons, students often get into the habit of taking down word for word what their teacher says. However, this technique is ineffective: doing so leads to shallower learning. By being selective and writing notes in their own words, they spend more time processing the information and embedding it in their brain.
Encouraging students not to take notes on a laptop but instead use pen and paper is one way to decrease verbatim note taking. To make this task less daunting and more effective, you could even teach students how to use the Cornell Note Taking Method…
- Taking photos of lecture slides
Students often take pictures of lectures slides. However, evidence suggests that this does not have a positive impact on their memory, as they are not meaningfully interacting with the material. Instead, to enhance their chances of remembering the lesson’s content, students should annotate copies of the lecture slides as they go along.
- Cramming their revision
Students often rush to try and learn as much information as possible in the last few days before their exams. However, this is an ineffective method: when it comes to revision, a little but often is much better than a lot all at once for long term memory (that is called spacing your revision).
Recent research proved this, with one particular study finding that those who spaced out their revision scored on average 74%. In comparison, those who crammed only scored an average of 49% if the test was at least a week away.
- Not getting enough sleep
Research has shown that 45% of teenagers fail to get the recommended 8-10 hours of sleep they need to perform well during the day. Sleep deprivation is a problem for students, as it can compromise their learning at school. Sleep plays a key role in enhancing memory, as the brain uses sleep to form new connections and prioritise the most important information. Setting up a consistent bedtime routine is therefore of paramount importance to students, and it has even been shown that focusing on getting at least 8 hours of sleep a night during exams leads to better grades than revising late into the night.
- Leaving the hard task until the end
The harder the task, the more energy and focus we need to complete it. Therefore, it makes sense for most students to work on their hardest tasks around 10am when their daily biological clocks make them most alert. Attempting to do these tasks later makes them more difficult and increases the likelihood that they will be left until the next day – by the time they get to these tasks, students are usually too tired to complete them well.
- Not getting enough fresh air
In a world dominated by technology, many students are locking themselves indoors and spending hours on their phone or playing video games. However, getting enough fresh air is very important because of the profound impact it can have on well-being. A recent study found that going for a short walk, even for just 12 minutes, can improve happiness, attentiveness and confidence.
In students’ search to figure out what works best to maximise their learning and performance, it is also important to minimise the stuff that doesn’t. It’s not just about finding the extra 1%, but ensuring you do the 99% right first. By becoming aware of the common mistakes that they make, students can learn more efficiently and effectively, which means both less stress and better grades.