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The Psychology Behind Three Popular Study Habits

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Have you ever wondered why your teachers and parents stress you about studying? Do you consider studying to be based on how much time you spend rather than how much effort you apply?

I know the feeling too well of searching ways to maximize the quality of study time you put in and get results that say “these are the study habits to use” and “these are the study habits to use and why they will work.” That’s why the purpose of this article is to share some study habits to use but also explain the psychology behind them in order for you to fully understand their purpose. 

Handwritten Notes

You probably think to yourself “I should probably type my notes to save time.” While this tactic may be quicker, it won’t help you pass that math test. Handwritten notes are effective in helping to encode information into your brain rather than typing. According to the Atkinson-Shiffron model, your memory is divided into four sections; sensory input, sensory memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory. To properly get the information you study into long-term memory, your brain must be able to encode the information into your brain properly.

When writing your notes, the encoding process works much better than typing, which goes so fast that your brain doesn’t have enough time to encode all the information. Don’t believe me? Well, there was a study done by Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles to test the effectiveness of both techniques. Mueller and Oppenheimer used two university student groups to observe; students who typed their notes, and students who didn’t. The results ended up showing that the students who hand wrote did better on the tests than the ones who typed.

Also, writing your notes by hand can help prevent cognitive offloading where you are lessening the amount of cognitive function used for a task that requires more. When typing, you remove the amount of cognitive function used to handwrite and replace it with the lesser amount of function (which is typing), thus making your brain more dependent on it. 


Let’s say that you take all your hand-written lecture notes. You then go over them one good time and think that you will be ready for the big exam. I’m here to tell you that you will not be well prepared to pass. To get all of those math formulas or history facts into your head, you have to quiz yourself on the info. It helps to repeat the information in a way that will move it into long-term memory storage. This technique, known as “effortful processing,” involves putting efforts into pushing the study materials into long-term memory (hence the name).

So what I’m trying to tell you is that if you don’t put enough effort into reinforcing the information, it will be very difficult to get the test scores you want. It is also very useful to quiz yourself because as the info is retrieved over and over again, it starts to attach context. Say for example you are quizzing yourself on the lobes of the brain. As you start to memorize them, you see that the occipital lobe is involved with the functions of sight or that the frontal lobe deals with personality, right as you are asked a question involving context from the information involving the brains lobes. 


Another study technique that is great in creating shortcuts to encrypting information into the brain would be Mnemonics. You might be familiar with this because many schools use it to help students remember things (which I will get into later). Mnemonics makes good use of word pair associations. This is when you have material that you associate using a word, phrase, or acronym. A common example is PEMDAS (Parenthesis, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, and Subtraction). Your math teachers may have told you it stands for “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally” to remember how to do an order of operation equation. When you think of each letter to go with the corresponding word in the phrase, you are actively using word-pair association. This is also taking advantage of connections already present in your memory. Once you learn the mnemonic for PEMDAS and it’s in your long-term memory, you will always be able to connect it. This also ties back into creating the context for retrieval mentioned earlier. 

Now that you have gone over the psychology behind these study techniques, it is time for the last habits you can’t forget: execution and consistency. Consistency is key to making it all work. I guarantee that those grades will reflect the quality effort you put in. 

Here are some statements from local teens about study habits that have helped them: 

Writing notes by hand, while time-consuming, is helpful for remembering because I can spend up to 1-2 hours writing notes all in all, and I remember because my hand is cramped after lol. But seriously, it works! And using anything mnemonic that will help me remember is so good because it comes a lot easier to me than just trying to remember it in itself.” –Zoe A., 14, Georgia Connections Academy

“Some habits that have helped me a lot are doing quizlets and repetition on information that I need really know. I try to look for quizlets that have the information that I need to know for whatever I’m studying for. If I can’t find one I’ll make one myself. I’ll also share quizlets with people in my class to help them out too. “ Shaneese S., 15, Homeschooled 

“Writing things by hand helps me retain information because it encourages muscle memory for me. Quizzing myself helps me understand what I don’t understand at the moment. And mnemonic devices are used to help me remember information during a test or quiz.” –Brianna W., 15, New Manchester High School 

“They (the techniques) have all help me in a tremendous way especially the writing one that one is very effective for me because of the muscle memory.” Sarai B., 14, Heartwood ALC

“Me having good memorization skills was always handy for my studying habits because when I would write my notes, I would only have to look at them a few times to understand what I’m studying.” Tamara M., 17 , Homeschooled

“I think taking well-written notes helps me perform better because I’m able to trace back everything I learn. Classmates help as well.” Noni V., 18, Agnes Scott College

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comments (1)

  1. Santee

    Good information. I used quizzing to study and it worked a lot better than just reviewing. I’ll keep it up.