Studying Guide: Location

Photo credit to Stuart Bradford, The New York Times

Credit to Stuart Bradford, The New York Times, 2014

The Studying Guide is a blog series exploring the cognitive aspects of studying and test-taking. It presents study techniques that research has proven is beneficial to scholastic abilities. While ideal methods vary by the student, we provide suggestions of techniques and see what works for each individual.

It is reasonable to wish to study in full comfort. Some students find that studying while lying down on a cozy couch will extend the length of their study session by minimizing reasons to stop. There are other imaginative ways to extend study time. A textbook propped on a treadmill during your workout can squeeze in more studying without sacrificing time out of your tight schedule. However, while these comfortable or convenient ways to study seem advantageous, they could cause a student to lose out on knowledge.

Studies show that memory retention is improved by recreating the position you will be in when the information must be accessed. To put it simply, information you learn while lying down is harder to remember later if you are seated upright. Given that your instructor is unlikely to allow you to take your exam curled up on a recliner with multiple pillows, studying this way could be holding back your memory recall capacity. Similarly, studying during a workout, such as running on a treadmill or at spin class, can also hinder your ability to remember when you are sitting upright during the exam. So if you find yourself having trouble recalling information you studied while lying down, studying while sitting upright could be the edge you need to succeed.

Furthermore, memory retention benefits from recreating the testing environment. In addition to sitting upright, sitting at a desk can boost your exam aptitude over reviewing notes on your lap. Studies show that even temperature plays a role in memory recall, so you might want to reconsider studying outside in May for an AP test in the ice-cold library. If you are allowed to study in the room where you will be taking the test, it could help you visualize your triumph. If not the actual testing location, try to study where your surroundings resemble the classroom, such as chair inclination and temperature.

It can be nice to have a designated spot to hit the books, but research shows you might want to mix up your study locale. As it turns out, it helps memory retention when you review information you already know in a new location. When you go over past knowledge in different places, your brain forms new associations with the same material. The more associations you can form around a concept, the stronger the memory will be under the pressure of the exam clock. It might be hard to find new locations that also recreate your testing environment, but it can be as simple as different sections of the library or at a different study group member’s kitchen table each meeting.

It is hard to argue against comfort. If you find you study hardest with your feet up on the couch, be our guest. You definitely do not want to be uncomfortable when studying, but recreating the testing environment by sitting upright at a desk to study could make a positive difference in your performance. You could also benefit from reviewing information in new locations to cement it in your memory. Where you learn has a lot to do with recall, so whether you are studying astronomy or geography, it’s location, location, location.

Better Ways to Learn – Tara Parker-Pope – The New York Times

Does Memory Suffer if you Work Outside of the Office? – Amy M. Garczynski & Matthew J. Grawitch, PhD – American Psychological Association

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