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Deciding When to Study

  1. Deciding when to study depends in part the subjects to be studied and the kind of learning sought.

    1. Most people learn more slowly just before going to bed than they do earlier in the day, but subjects reviewed just before going to bed are remembered better.

      1. Thus, try to schedule your learning early in the day and spend an hour just before retiring to review what you have learned. Make this a habit (habits generally take about three weeks to establish--at the three week point for many activities, the probability that the "habit" will continue is just above 50%).

      2. Reviewing immediately after class (if only for 5 to 10 minutes) consolidates learning and is paramount for classes with new conceptual content (e.g., mathematics, logic, and the sciences).

    2. For rote memorizing, spaced  practice is distinctly superior to massed practice. Spaced practice results in markedly higher retention.

      1. For foreign language, biology, and other classes requiring large amounts of memorized material, study in 15 to 20 minute sessions.

      2. The increase in retention for shorter periods of study for memorized lists is dramatic compared to the retention had for longer periods of study.  Some researchers report two to three more information is remembered using spaced practice in comparison to the same number of minutes using massed practice.

    3. For understanding, massed practice is the superior study method.

      1. Massed practice results in markedly higher retention for subjects such as mathematics, science, and philosophy.

      2. If you are attempting to gain insight into a difficult subject, massed practice (40 minutes to 90 minutes of study) is much more effective in developing your understanding of the content.

  2. If your attention persistently wanders, it is usually better to stop studying and reschedule than to reinforce inconsistent and unproductive study periods. Before you stop, however, it is useful to write yourself a contract as to when and where you will replace the lost study time.

 
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