The Value of Study Habits

By Paul A. Djupe

We were just talking about “study habits” in my Advising Circle last Friday and at least I placed some emphasis on “habit.” I mean, we could call this “study methods” or just “studying,” but instead we often refer to it as “study habits” for a reason – there’s a great power to be had by hitching studying to habitual behavior. It becomes routinized as something you just do rather than something you need to be motivated to do. Motivation is a fickle friend, but habits die hard.

How do you acquire a study habit? Practice. Only by dedicated repetition will the behavior slip over into a subconscious process. There is no doubt that this is hard and we can see failure all around us, especially in January. Each January people flood gyms ready to turn over a new leaf and get fit. But by the end of January, the crowds have thinned and it’s back in control of the gym rats. Why? Most people can’t just will themselves over the 3 weeks or so of repetition to make it a subconscious behavior that they do on a regular basis. They can’t establish the habit.

The problem with college is that you have too much freedom and there are too many things to do. The problem of choice is particularly acute in your dorm room where you face the pull of watching something or especially taking that little 4 hour nap. But the solution is right outside your door – go work somewhere else and do it at roughly the same times (almost) everyday.

We can see some indirect evidence that there’s something to this suggestion in survey data from last fall. One of the things we asked of roughly 400 Denisonians is how many days a week they get work done outside of their rooms. Less than 5 percent never work outside their room, but 40 percent get work done outside their room less than 4 days a week (see below). Is this at all linked to academic success?

There’s some evidence that working outside the room is linked to academic success as measured by self-reported GPA. Those who work 7 days a week outside their room report a GPA that is about half a point higher (3-3.5) than those who don’t work outside their room. It’s important to note that there’s a hidden variable in the mix – this measure is surely also telling us how much they study and not just where they study. In some ways, that’s the point though. I strongly suspect that working outside the room is also linked to a greater amount of studying (though I can’t disentangle them in these data).

One reason to bring up this topic is that it may not be readily apparent to all first year students who have surely, to the point of entering college, been studying in their rooms at home. So, the vast array of study space options at Denison is a novel thing to learn. Ratifying that notion, juniors spend almost a full day more working outside their room than first years (but also seniors). The low number for seniors surely represents the benefits of living in suites or just regression in their old age (probably the former).

There are loads of remaining questions to think about as you compose your study habits. How long can you reasonably study productively? What kinds of breaks help you study more and better? Can you productively study with other people? How can you shut off your phone so you can get something done? But I think I’ve shown a crucial piece – that setting is important, especially one that gets you away from the loads of other choices you could be making instead of studying. That is, get out of your room, find a semi-dedicated study space, and do it on the regular.

Paul A. Djupe is a local cyclist who runs the Data for Political Research minor. He started a few years ago in a bid to subsidize collective action. He’s on Twitter and you should be too, along with your president.

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