Research on Study Habits

We often think that we have to organize and simplify to get things to work well for our brains when we study. And many times that is true.

Yet, we also know that the brain is complex. This begs the question: how can we best use the brain’s complexity to aid us in studying? A recent article in the New York Times reports findings from some cognitive research that might surprise you!

In one study, researchers had two groups of college students study 40 vocabulary words. One group studied the material twice in the same room. The other group studied twice, but in two different rooms. The group that studied in two different rooms did better on subsequent testing. 
  •  Why? Scientists think that our complex brain absorbs information in association with its larger context.  Apparently the context is not only factual (for example, how much you already know about the subject) but also seems to be the circumstances of learning (such as the details of the room you study in). So, varying the context for studying associates the new information with several contexts and thus embeds it more firmly in your brain.
  • Take away: Try varying the seat you use in a classroom and try varying the location or other circumstances (quiet/music) of your study and review sessions.What do you notice?

In other research, scientists have found that, when studying, varying the approach to a subject within a single study session can help with memory and learning. For example, rather than doing 10 of the same type of problem in a given study session, do a variety of problem types. 

  • Why? Again, researchers believe that this approach makes active use of the complexity of the brain: it forces the brain to use its ability to search for deeper patterns (similarities, differences), thus helping hold the information more firmly in place.
  • Take away: Mix up your approaches to studying a particular subject during any one study period. For example, instead of just reading, read, do some exercises or take notes, recite out loud. How might that work for you?

This third research finding is a real surprise: testing actually helps you learn! In a recent study, scientists found that a group of students who studied material one day and took a quiz on it the next day did better on subsequent testing than students who studied one day and studied again the next.

  • Why?  Researchers think that the process of having to recall information (as for a quiz) actually engages the brain more fully and helps embed the information more firmly in the brain.
  • Take away: Help yourself to study more effectively by asking yourself – and answering – questions about your class material. You can use questions from the end of a textbook chapter or questions you generate yourself from textbook headings, vocabulary, lecture notes, and the like. Of course, don’t forget to thank your teachers for all the quizzes and texts that help you learn 🙂 !

To read more about these research studies, see the following article in the New York Times:

An AD/HD Coach can help you learn about these and other study techniques and then use them to develop a personalized approach to studying that works most effectively for you.

If you want to learn more about coaching, I’d be happy to talk with you. Please feel free to contact me at

You can also check my website at

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