Students Studying in HUB

Students study in the HUB-Robeson Center on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020.

With final exams approaching and the end of the semester looming, some Penn State students take this time to reflect on their study habits — and most realize sleep deprivation and caffeination is not the best way to approach studying.

Many students don’t know who to talk to about study skills. Instead, they attempt an endless cycle of trial and error.

Ultimately, professors may be the best resource for study tips — believe it or not, they were students once too.

According to Dustin Elliott, assistant teaching professor of psychology, memorization is the most ineffective study method.

Elliott said he tried this approach during his first years in college.

“This was something that I, as many college students do, found out the hard way,” Elliott said. “As my college career continued, I learned to translate my notes into my own words. I also learned that in order to thoroughly understand the information I was learning, I needed to be able to apply that information to novel situations.”

After a year of virtual classes, Elliott said it’s important to know how to study for these online courses.

“That process has to happen before students can even hope to study effectively. As students sit at their computers, they are tempted to have several [unrelated] windows open simultaneously,” Elliott said. “This causes them to try and multitask with several things at once.”

According to Elliott, cognitive research proves multitasking isn’t possible and students should be “diligent and organized.”

Bradley Markle, a lecturer in the English department, disagreed with Elliott, however.

“Don’t study,” Markle said. “Ideally, do the thing that you're learning. If you want to learn to cook, don't read about it — start making pancakes.”

But, Markle offered an alternative to those who cannot actively do what they are learning about.

“If doing this isn't an option, then carry around some flashcards with you — there's wonderful apps for this — and just periodically flip through them for five to 10 minutes at a time,” Markle said. “Waiting on the bus? Flip through them. Commercial on TV? Flip through them. Smaller sessions of study are more tolerable than cram sessions and [they] keep information fresh.”

He also suggested students spend as much time outside as possible — especially amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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“Finding any excuse to leave the house and get out in the world will probably help with one's sanity,” Markle said. “Being locked inside for a year certainly takes a toll, and being locked inside surrounded by esoteric texts that you're supposed to memorize is even worse. Make some flash cards and go for a hike.”

Curt Chandler, associate teaching professor of communications and journalism at Penn State, said his friend group in college was what kept him on track.

“Fortunately, I ran with a group of people that would study hard and party hard,” Chandler said. “We knew how to have a good time, but we also knew that we were there to get something done. I was pretty notorious for disappearing when I was working on an important project.”

Chandler said he thinks it’s important to surround yourself with people with similar priorities.

Additionally, he said students should recognize how to maximize their studying while juggling multiple activities at once.

“I was a very busy person. I was on the debate team, I worked for three different student publications and I was a full-time student,” Chandler said. “I really tried to structure my time so that I did not feel overwhelmed by all the things that I needed to do.”

But, Chandler said a few studying mishaps taught him how to be more efficient.

“I read ‘War and Peace’ in 48 hours,” Chandler said. “I basically drank coffee and read until I was finished. I met the deadline, but I think I could have handled that one a lot better.”

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