Special Section Spring Finals Edition

Fact or fiction: studying techniques for finals


Students are willing to try just about anyting to help them study for finals, but how many of those superstitions actually help? | Justin Cross/The Cougar

If you’re anything like me, finding the best way to study can be a real hassle. Despite having multiple years of college under my belt, seeking an effective method to retain the information I’m studying can often be a challenge.

As a student, I’ve encountered people who claim various quirks that boost their studying’s effectiveness. From chewing gum to color-coding notes, do any of these things actually help? Here’s what science has to say.

Listening to music while studying

While spending long hours in the library or with your nose in a textbook, music provides a great escape from boredom. Many students say that listening to their favorite music helps them relax or focus — but is this actually true?

According to a study by Dr. Nick Perham of Cardiff Metropolitan University, the presence of music while attempting to study actually distracts the mind. Perham mentions that music that exhibits “acute-changing states” impairs focus. In other words, when your brain listens to music with lyrics, the language processing section of the brain fires up, which causes your attention to be divided. And even if the music has no lyrics, your brain still attends to the changing sounds the music has.

Chewing gum

I’ve often heard that chewing gum while studying and taking tests can aid in memory recall. Although I never knew the legitimacy of this theory, the logic seemed believable. Thanks to a 2015 study, we may finally have the answer to this long-unanswered myth.

In a study, Serge Onyper of St. Lawrence University divided 224 undergraduates into three groups — one chewed gum before and during a test, one chewed only during the test and one didn’t chew at all. What he found was that the group who chewed prior to taking the test performed better. Onyper said chewing gum stimulates the brain and can aid your performance, which is important if your exam is in the morning.

Cramming before a test

We’ve all been there: you’ve known about this test for weeks, but you haven’t even opened the textbook until the night before. In a frantic effort to combat the procrastination you’ve exhibited all semester, you plan to pull a caffeine-induced, all-night study session. Surely this is an effective method, right?

As it turns out, getting adequate sleep is just as important to academic performance as studying. A study done by Andrew Fuligni, a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, reveals that forgoing sleep for extra study time often has a negative effect on test performance. “No one is suggesting that students shouldn’t study,” Fuligni said. “These results are consistent with emerging research suggesting that sleep deprivation impedes learning.”

Fuligni believes that optimal test performance begins with studying well in advance and keeping a consistent study-and-sleep schedule.

Color-coding notes

It’s rare to see students taking notes during lecture with actual pen and paper. I’ve long been under the impression that writing down notes actually helps you remember as you are increasing your engagement and avoiding distractions. Could adding color to your notes help even more?

Michael Tipper, a seasoned speaker and expert on mind mapping, stresses the importance of adding color to your work. Tipper says that by adding color you keep your mind awake and activate your brain’s creativity centers. Having a set color-coding system can go a long way in helping you recall information and keeping you engaged in your studies. Try adding color to your review or notes and you may find information on the test becomes clearer.

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