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How not to study!

Updated: Feb 3, 2023

Do you feel you study consistently and for many hours and still don't think it pays off in higher marks on your tests? It may be that you are studying ineffectively! For all we know about what works for students to improve their grades through effective study techniques (see previous posts), we also know what ineffective study methods look like. Let's examine a few and you decide if your study habits are effective or perhaps in need of change.

Probably the most used student study technique is re-reading notes and textbooks. One study (Karpicke et al. 2009) of college students suggests that upwards of 84% of students report re-reading as a study technique. Yet research reports there are limited benefits to re-reading material as a way to study (Callender & McDaniel, 2009). Another technique that students often use along with re-reading is highlighting or underlining. This is also demonstrably an inefficient method of studying (Dunlosky et al. 2013).

Many students believe they can listen to music as they study, but this doesn't work either. Perham & Currie (2014) compared two groups of students using the same study technique with the only difference that one group was permitted to listen to music. Those in a quiet environment performed better on an exam than did those that listen to music. The authors speculate that music, and particularly music with lyrics, takes up valuable working memory for students. Best to study in a quiet spot! and probably without your cell phone, because evidence suggests that cell phones also act as a distraction for learning (Mendoza et al. 2018).

So there are definitely study habits you should consider stopping and, instead, replace these poor habits with new habits. One consistently effective method of studying appears often in the research - retrieval practice. Methods such as self-testing and practice testing, use of such devices as flashcards writing down all you can remember about a topic (brain dumps), etc. are very effective and supported by the research (Roediger et al. 2011). And this is exactly what we focus on with our learning modules. We take away the hard work of creating practice tests and flashcards for studying. Plus you can be certain our practice tests are focussed on Alberta curriculum. You, the student, simply log on and select the test on the topic you want to study, complete the test from memory, and check the elaborative feedback that follows.

To read more about the effective use of science for studying check out this page on our web site:


Callender, A. A., & McDaniel, M. A. (2009). The limited benefits of rereading educational texts. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 34(1), 30 41.

Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4-58.

Karpicke, Jeffrey D., Butler, Andrew C. and Roediger III, Henry L.(2009) Metacognitive strategies in student learning: Do students practise retrieval when they study on their own?, Memory,17:4, 471-479.

Mendoza, J. S., Pody, B. C., Lee, S., Kim, M., & McDonough, I. M. (2018). The effect of cellphones on attention and learning: The influences of time, distraction, and nomophobia. Computers in Human Behavior, 86, 52–60.

Perham, Nick, and Currie, Harriet, (2014) Does listening to preferred music improve reading comprehension performance? Applied Cognitive Psychology, 28:279-284.

Roediger, Henry & Putnam, Adam & Sumeracki, Megan. (2011). Ten Benefits of Testing and Their Applications to Educational Practice. Psychology of Learning and Motivation, 55:1-36.

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