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The Campanile

High-schoolers: Study smarter, not harder

As junior Emily Yun slowly closes her laptop after a long day of sitting and staring at a screen, she sighs heavily and thinks about all the homework she must get done before her next day of virtual learning. Dejected and unmotivated, she slouches in her chair and stares at the ceiling.

“In the virtual learning environment, I’m very doubtful of my knowledge and understanding, and I feel very unconfident in my actions,” Yun said. “It makes me unmotivated to do things.” Since schools closed last March, Paly has been operating in a virtual learning environment. But in this environment, many students feel unmotivated to do work, although some have adapted efficiently, including sophomore Johannah Seah.

A Southern Cross University study shows that short online learning sessions are more efficient than longer sessions, as they allow synapses in the brain to process information better than attempting to absorb large amounts of information for a longer time. Seah said she has used this knowledge to her advantage.

“A misleading but important practice for effective studying is taking intentional and effective breaks,” Seah said. “Overworking often leads to burnout or excessive stress, which can affect productivity and cognitive performance. Breaks, on the other hand, allow the brain and body to rest and as a result, work harder and healthier.”

In a 2009 study published by Williams College, students studied a stack of 20 vocabulary words. One half of the group studied the 20 words continuously, while the other half studied five words at a time in four separate stacks.

The study found that students who studied the entire stack at a time could remember 13% more words than the students who studied in four smaller stacks, because the students studying the larger stack had more spacing between each of the four times they saw a word. Even though the time in between studying sessions was minimal, the study proved spacing learning has a positive effect on retaining information.

According to the American Psychological Association, students can study smarter by testing themselves and their understanding, as it forces them to retrieve information and apply their knowledge.

“The problem with repeated rereading, which is what most students do to study, is that it gives you a false sense of familiarity,” Washington University psychologist Louis Henry Roediger told the APA. “You feel like you know the material, but you’ve never tried retrieving it.”

Yun though, said studying smarter can vary from student to student, and the true meaning of studying smarter is to study in a manner that best suits each individual student, even if it’s different from someone else.

“If you are using the methods that you know work for you as a learner, such as flashcards, Quizlet or reading the textbook, that’s studying smarter,” Yun said. “And that way you will be a lot more efficient in the way you study.”

Similarly, in 2017, a research study conducted by Stanford found students who approached learning and strategized their resources scored an average of 3.45 percentage points higher than the class in the first study, and an average of 4.65 percentage points in the second study.

In both studies, a group of students acted as a control group and received the normal exam reminder. However, the students in the intervention group were asked to strategize their resources by thinking about the material on the upcoming test.

Yun said studying efficiently is key, especially while learning virtually, but keeping a growth mindset is equally as important to learn.

“I try to keep my mindset on working harder to truly understand concepts rather than working harder to get good grades,” Yun said. “Simply working harder to raise grades is not a good mindset to have, especially when you’re preparing to go into the real world.”

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