https://www.smh.com.au-By Siobhán Doran-Chaston
A 20-minute study session can be more effective than a two-hour deep dive. Credit:Stocksy
As students all around the country cram for end-of-year exams, parents might start questioning their child’s study methods. Surely chewing gum can’t really help concentration? Is listening to the same song on repeat until a task is complete such a good idea? Isn’t two hours of intense study better than multiple 20-minute bursts?
“It depends on the individual,” says Associate Professor Shirley Agostinho, of the School of Education at the University of Wollongong. “If a student works better when chewing gum or playing with a fidget spinner, then that’s what should be done.
“There is no cookie-cutter recipe here, and parents and carers need to respect this. Learning is now so much more multifaceted and complex, and so are the approaches required. If a study tip is unusual but works for the student then that’s all that matters.”
It seems a “one size fits all” study approach is increasingly irrelevant. “Gone are the days of everyone studying the same textbook to cram for an exam,” says Dr Tiffani Apps, also of the University of Wollongong. “These days, students have to draw understanding from multiple resources of varying quality, and they have to make decisions on what information to process from these resources.
“From primary school, students hear, ‘Don’t go to Wikipedia’, or ‘YouTube isn’t a reliable source’. But those sources can be used as an entry point into an idea or concept, which warrants a rich discussion around that content – in terms of what information does or doesn’t align with the truth, and what may not align with other sources.”
As study habits become increasingly individual, the emphasis is on quality, not quantity. In fact, parents and carers may be surprised to learn that a 20-minute study session can be more effective than a two-hour deep dive.
“We’re often fixated to say, ‘Spend two hours on English,’ ” says Dr Apps. “A better approach is to set a more tangible goal, such as, ‘Work on this passage of text’, or ‘Read this chapter’, with the aim of understanding and perhaps even sharing key ideas.
“If that takes 20 minutes, so be it; as long as the goal has been successfully achieved it doesn’t matter about the length of time it takes.”
In fact, the act of setting a tangible goal at the start of each study session can be a game-changer, says Dr Apps. “It allows learners to monitor their own progress and provides a checkpoint for understanding. This is an important skill for children as they become more independent, self-regulated learners.”
Professor Agostinho says a student can take many actions towards becoming an independent learner. One such example is to manage their cognitive load, which is linked to working memory function.
“Tips on how to do this include breaking down tasks into smaller chunks, looking at past examples,
and having all the information you need in front of you when completing a task so you don’t split your attention by searching and then matching information.”
The message for parents appears to be clear: times have changed and study tips are more individual now.
“It’s down to the person and how they learn and parents need to respect this as learning is harder than ever,” says Dr Apps. “It might be a trial and error process since they haven’t really been responsible for their own learning before, so supporting them in this process is really powerful.”