We all do it: the all-nighters, the one-day cram sessions, the 12-hour rush to complete 7 days worth of work for all of your classes. There are so many different methods for studying and completing assignments, and many of them work, at least for the short term. However, if you want to remember anything from your college education, here is why studying massive amounts all at once is not the best method to learn.

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Attention Deficit

Most of us have some form of attention deficit; maybe not the disorder, but definitely the problem. It’s recommended that you take a 10-15 minute study break every hour in order to keep your brain fresh. Do this over and over for 12 hours straight, though, and you’re not necessarily going to keep acquiring more information. It is likely that you will, instead, replace the old information with new information. Not very effective, right?

Instead, try for a two-hour study session with a 15-minute break, and then take a nap. Sleeping after studying is the best way to actually retain information. Do this six times a week instead of studying for 12 hours on a Sunday and you will learn much more.

Creating Memories

If you study for eight hours and then walk straight into an exam, you’re probably going to do well. But as soon as you leave that exam room, you start forgetting. You’ve made a lot of short-term memories over the last few hours, but only a handful of them will be strong enough to carry through to the end of the semester.

If your goal in a 12-hour study session is just to get through the next exam, then it might work, but who wants to spend 15 Sundays in the library just to forget it all after finals?

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Application

Additionally, we don’t learn effectively just by memorization; it’s the application of skills that helps us learn. If you study for 30 minutes, do a set of math problems. This way you’re more able to do those math problems in the future because you were able to connect concepts to problems.

Brain Strength Training

Do you lift weights? Do you run long distances? If you’ve never run in your life, are you going to hear a lecture about how to run, and then head out for a marathon (26.2 miles)? No. You’re going to build up gradually, just as you would with weight lifting, biking, or swimming.

The brain needs its own gradual strength training as well. Did you ever notice that it’s incredibly easy to learn something new in a topic you already know a lot about? That’s because your brain strengthens over time; the better you are at a certain skill or topic, the less work your brain has to do. It goes into autopilot, making it easier to acquire new information.

You should give your brain time to acquire new skills and concepts, and you should build upon those you already know. One long day in the library isn’t conducive to this style of learning.

The Magical Number Seven

According to the limits of short-term memory, Miller’s Law says that humans can only keep (+/-) 7 items in working memory. Further research suggests that the number 7 is the magical number for digits, but that we can only retain 6 letters and 5 words. So that means you shouldn’t be flipping 50 flashcards all at once.

Start in small batches, over and over and over until you’ve got all 5 words/theories/scientists/concepts memorized, then move on to the next batch.

Your Internal Clock

Guess what? All that talk about internal clocks really does mean something. For example, a higher percentage of world records are set in the afternoon than at any other time of the day. The same goes for your brain capacity, but it’s not the same for everyone.

Your circadian rhythms are different; if you’re a night person, you’ll probably spend the first 6 hours at the library slow and distracted, and the last 6 hours much more focused and successful. Figure out whether you are a morning person or a night person, in terms of your capacity to solve problems and acquire new information, and then schedule your studies around this discovery.

 

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