This summer we are featuring several articles from the June 2020 Hawk Talk, our student newspaper. This week, we share editor-in-chief Sean P.’s dissection of study tactics.
Whether you like it or not, studying is a necessary fact of life. Whether you are preparing for something as minuscule as a quiz or for a test as life-changing as the MCAT or LSAT, studying can be imperative for success. It is important to learn how to do it well.
Although each individual’s style of studying varies, some people choose to study using virtual notes, virtual flashcards, and virtual annotations, while others choose to stick with classic paper-pencil notes, index cards, and marginal annotations. Studying also comes with its own amenities. You can choose from an array of amenities some of which include listening to music, drinking coffee, or working alongside a friend. But that’s not all. Unlike your school schedule, you are able to choose what time you want to study, the order in which you study, and whether you want to stick to a routine or not. With all these factors in mind, there are so many ways to study, but is there a most effective way to study? If so, how? If not, why do we even care to study?
Let's start with the basic question: should you study using classical methods or virtual methods? Within the last 20 years, technology has grown to such an extent where if there were a third industrial revolution, technology would be the one and only invention history would have to mention. Although we are used to studying with highlighters, pens, flashcards, and paper-pencil notes, many apps have been designed that have similar tools or even more. A study conducted at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania asked students, “How often do you engage in mobile phone note taking?” and asked them to choose from very often, often, occasionally, rarely, and never. Of these choices, very often and rarely were the most chosen among students, with 25.7% of students saying very often and 26.6% saying rarely. The study found the most prevalent motives behind mobile phone note taking were speedy lecturing, easier access to information, and easy organization of work. This indicates that some students choose to study virtually as a result of its convenience and organization, while others do it to make sure they jot down all points of a speedy lecture.
What about the 26.6% that said they rarely participate in mobile phone note taking? Research from Michael C. Friedman from Harvard University suggests that virtual notes may “reduce the cognitive resources required for production.” In other words, virtual notes may not be employing as many cognitive resources as compared to paper-pencil notes. As a result, some may find that when they take paper-pencil notes, they understand and remember the material more easily. It is important to note that note taking is only one element of studying. Yet, it is one of the most prevalent and most used methods to study content material. When it comes to the question whether you should study using classical methods or virtual methods, I believe it comes down to the individual and their situation. Some may find it more beneficial to take notes virtually, while others may find it more beneficial to take notes by hand. Yet, it is also a possibility that some people may take virtual notes out of laziness and others may take paper-pencil notes for the purpose of making their notes look pretty. I guess there is no answer to what I called “the basic question.”
Now, let's get into the nitty gritty. If studying were the main course, consider what I am about to list as side dishes. Music, drinks, food, or a companion are some things students tend to have beside them while studying. Amongst these, is there one that benefits a student’s cognitive abilities or do all of them tend to hinder a student’s ability to study? In an article by Arielle Dolegui titled “The Impact of Listening to Music on Cognitive Performance,” Dolegui mentions some studies that found music to be a hindrance to cognitive performance, while other studies found music to improve cognitive performance. After analyzing multiple studies, Dolegui concludes that the type of music, volume of music, one’s personality, and cognitive task all play a factor in how music either benefits or hinders cognitive performance.
However, in a majority of the studies mentioned in Dolegui’s article, students who studied under silent conditions performed their tasks more efficiently compared to those listening to music. Nevertheless, silence often leads to fatigue and in order to prevent such fatigue, many students resort to one thing: coffee. Coffee is very rich in a chemical stimulant known as caffeine. Is there such a thing as too much coffee? According to the Harvard School of Public Health, “low to moderate doses of caffeine (50-300 mg)” could result in alertness and thus increased concentration. However, “higher doses of coffee” could result in anxiety, insomnia, and restlessness (all of which are detrimental to an individual’s health). Therefore, if you want those coffee beans to benefit your cognitive abilities, drink in moderation. Music and coffee are just two from a list of options you have when it comes to studying. Side dishes tend to always help main courses in some way or another; likewise, by choosing the right tools to study alongside with, your cognitive abilities could improve for the better.
Yet, unlike routine menus, many seem to reap the benefits of following a routine study schedule. In a Harvard Business School article titled “The Daily Routines of Geniuses,” the author quotes Mason Currey who examined the routines of over 100 well-known artists, painters, and scientists. After examining the routines of Jane Austen, William Faulkner, and Mozart among others, Currey states that “a solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods.” Currey concludes that a well-developed routine enables greater concentration and helps eliminate the obstacles that result from fluctuations in mood. Applying Currey’s conclusion into study practices, a solid study schedule or routine, could result in increased focus on cognitive tasks and minimal distraction in the presence of a nuisance.
Considering all of this, is there a most effective way to study? I was hoping for a solid yes or no, but like most scientific questions, the answer isn’t so simple. There are many factors that come into play when determining what method of studying is most effective: personality, environment, distractions, health, and more. So when it comes to answering the question, it comes down to the individual. For some individuals, studying with a laptop, coffee, and a consistent routine may work best. For others, studying with a notebook, music, and no solid routine may result in straight A’s. I guess choosing how to study is a-la-carte after all.