5 Bad Study Habits You’ve Probably Been Following

5 Bad Study Habits You’ve Probably Been Following

You hear a lot of platitudes when it comes to studying: “Make studying a priority. Review your notes early and often.” “Read all the textbook chapters and do your homework.” “Practice makes perfect. So practice as much as you can.”

First off, all the students who have ever been in a classroom just collectively rolled their eyes. Second, most of this stuff we hear, though well intentioned (maybe), is just plain wrong. A lot of bad study habits are spread in the guise of helpful advice.

Here are 5 of the most common bad study habits that parents, teachers, and advisors teach, and why they’re actually hurting your GPA:

1. Read the chapter before lecture

Here’s something we’ve all heard teachers say at the end of class: “Read chapter 12 on the Law of Cosines before class tomorrow so that we can jump right in.”

And you probably wanted to say, “Wait a sec… isn’t that your job?”

Anyway, no one does it (except maybe that guy who always sits in the front row). Even if we tell ourselves we’re gonna “get organized” and prepare before lecture, no one ever does the reading. And if you do, it’s usually a lackluster skim effort.

But would it actually help if we did? Should we actually care about “getting organized” and doing the reading before class?

Research suggests that this is a waste. An initial review period is necessary to learn something new, but further review becomes less and less effective.

So why would you review something twice? Well, because repetition improves your ability to recall something later. Practice makes perfect.


Not so fast. While it is useful to get a quick “lay of the land” on a new concept before going into lecture completely cold, beyond an initial introductory period to a new concept, your ability to remember, recall, and use that information does not improve with review.

What you need instead is testing and use. So that valuable time before lecture is much better spent quizzing yourself on the information from the previous lecture. Stuff that you’ll eventually see on the midterm or final, rather than some arcane explanation from a textbook.

Use the lecture the way it was intended: to introduce you to new material.

2. Get a study buddy

As you walk through your campus library, you see them everywhere: books scattered across tables, empty energy drink cans, and problems scribbled on pieces of paper or whiteboards.

Study groups.

Some people can’t stand to sit with other students for hours on end racking their brain over chemical reactions or Freudian psychology, but others can’t get enough of it and seem to find any excuse to meet up and “go over” the latest lecture notes.

So who’s got it right?

Studying with someone else can help you stay accountable, but that’s pretty much all it can do. Yes, knowing someone is waiting for you at 4pm at the library is motivation enough to get your butt out the door, and crack that notebook that otherwise would stay on the floor in the corner of your dorm room. But doing practice problems with another person is the quickest way to fool yourself into thinking you can reproduce it yourself on an exam.

It’s one thing to watch someone solve a tough physics problem and nod along saying “oh yeah, got it.” But it’s a completely different thing to actually reproduce that problem-solving method during crunch time, staring at a blank sheet of paper.


So definitely still make friends in your classes, and keep each other accountable. But limit working on problem sets together to those couple of sticking points you still have after working through everything yourself. Then go back a day or two later and make sure you truly understand it well enough to reproduce it yourself.

3. Review your notes after class

Passive review of your notes is not only time-consuming, it’s also been shown to be completely ineffective. And yet, this is what most teachers recommend. It’s what “good students” do.

But as with habit #1, this robotic type of study is not suited to the way the human memory system stores new information. Again, it’s far more effective to test yourself instead.

Try to re-create the key concepts or solve a few practice problems without referring to your notes from class. Do this again a day or two later.

Studies have shown that this self-testing method is a much better use of your time than simply “refreshing” a dead page of text. The only time you should touch your notes is when you’re going to try and re-organize and consolidate them into a more simple and compact form.

4. Find a quiet space and make it a daily habit

“Turn off the music! How can you concentrate with that on?”

“Stay still and be quiet. Just sit down and focus.”

Sound familiar?


This motherly advice is typically in response to multitasking teenagers who text, listen to music, have Facebook open, and are Skyping with a classmate while doing their homework.

So yes, in that case they may have a point. But the other extreme actually may be detrimental to future performance on exams.

Routinely studying in exactly the same quiet place is the best way to ensure that you can only recall that information reliably in that one spot. In essence, you’re training yourself to completely blank on that information when test day comes, when you’re thrown into an anxious mental state, under time pressure and sitting in a foreign environment (unless you happen to have one of those chairs in your apartment with the desk so small you can barely fit a piece of paper on it).

What you should actually do: study in widely varying contexts.

Studies have show that learning new information in different environments, at varying noise levels and even mood states, can significantly improve your ability to recall that same information when test day comes.

So mix it up. Quiz yourself on the treadmill. Lecture your roommate while playing Call of Duty. Do practice problems standing on one foot, using a fountain pen, while listening to ACDC.

And even better: go to the classroom where the exam will be held, pick out your seat, and do a practice exam in the same exact amount of time allotted for the test. Now that’s context-specific learning.

5. Refresh topics in your memory often

“If I can just keep reciting my study sheet for the next 24 hours, I’ll have it on the tip of my tongue during the exam.”

The problem with always feeling like you’re on top a new concept is that you’re committing what psychologists call the “fluency illusion.” Just because it’s easy to recall piece of information now, does not mean you won’t forget it later.


And in fact, the easier it is to recall, the less likely it is that you will be able to remember it in crunch time.

Studies show that some level of forgetting is actually necessary in order to improve the “retrieval strength” of a new memory. Bjork’s study recommends looking for a level of “desirable difficulty” with learning new information—e.g. it should be hard to remember how to solve limits using L’Hopital’s Rule if you really want to make sure you can remember it on test day.

So do this: Learn it once during lecture. Then give yourself a self-test later that night, without referencing your notes.

Then wait two days. You’ll feel like you’ve forgotten everything. But resist the urge to study your notes again.

Instead, test yourself again and struggle through, trying to pull as much of the material as you can from the depths of your memory. Each piece of information you can recall becomes more and more bulletproof to forgetting on the exam. And even wrong answers have been shown to benefit you.

Then, and only then, go back to your notes and see where you were right and where you were wrong. Make the appropriate corrections and then repeat the process.

Featured photo credit: Steven S. via

More by this author

7 Reasons You Won’t Start Studying Until It’s Too Late, And What To Do About It The 3 Things Elon Musk Knows About School That All Students Should Copy 10 Ways for Students to Crush It Next Semester 20 Funny Things Everyone Can Do Every Day to Get Smarter 10 counterintuitive quotes on learning that will make you a better student

Trending in Productivity

18 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More 212 Secrets To a Super Productive Meeting You Should Know 3Powerful Daily Routine Examples for a Healthy and High-Achieving You 4The Importance of Time Management: 8 Ways It Skyrockets Your Success 5How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

Read Next


Last Updated on August 21, 2018

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

You go to the gym to train your muscles. You run outside or go for hikes to train your endurance. Or, maybe you do neither of those, but still wish you exercised more.

Well, here is how to train one of the most important parts of your body: your brain.

When you train your brain, you will:

  • Avoid embarrassing situations. You remember his face, but what was his name?
  • Be a faster learner in all sorts of different skills. Hello promotion, here I come!
  • Avoid diseases that hit as you get older. No, thanks Alzheimer’s; you and I are just not a good fit.

So how to train your brain to learn faster and remember more?

1. Work your memory

Twyla Tharp, a NYC-based renowned choreographer has come up with the following memory workout:

When she watches one of her performances, she tries to remember the first twelve to fourteen corrections she wants to discuss with her cast without writing them down.

If you think this is anything less than a feat, then think again. In her book The Creative Habit she says that most people cannot remember more than three.

The practice of both remembering events or things and then discussing them with others has actually been supported by brain fitness studies.

Memory activities that engage all levels of brain operation—receiving, remembering and thinking—help to improve the function of the brain.


Now, you may not have dancers to correct, but you may be required to give feedback on a presentation, or your friends may ask you what interesting things you saw at the museum. These are great opportunities to practically train your brain by flexing your memory muscles.

What is the simplest way to help yourself remember what you see? Repetition.

For example, say you just met someone new.

“Hi, my name is George”

Don’t just respond with, “Nice to meet you”. Instead, say, “Nice to meet you George.” Got it? Good.

2. Do something different repeatedly

By actually doing something new over and over again, your brain wires new pathways that help you do this new thing better and faster.

Think back to when you were three years old. You surely were strong enough to hold a knife and a fork just fine. Yet, when you were eating all by yourself, you were creating a mess.

It was not a matter of strength, you see. It was a matter of cultivating more and better neural pathways that would help you eat by yourself just like an adult does.

And guess what? With enough repetition you made that happen!


But how does this apply to your life right now?

Say you are a procrastinator. The more you don’t procrastinate, the more you teach your brain not to wait for the last minute to make things happen.

Now, you might be thinking “Duh, if only not procrastinating could be that easy!”

Well, it can be. By doing something really small, that you wouldn’t normally do, but is in the direction of getting that task done, you will start creating those new precious neural pathways.

So if you have been postponing organizing your desk, just take one paper and put in its right place. Or, you can go even smaller. Look at one piece of paper and decide where to put it: Trash? Right cabinet? Another room? Give it to someone?

You don’t actually need to clean up that paper; you only need to decide what you need to do with it.

That’s how small you can start. And yet, those neural pathways are still being built. Gradually, you will transform yourself from a procrastinator to an in-the-moment action taker.

3. Learn something new

It might sound obvious, but the more you use your brain, the better its going to perform for you.

For example, learning a new instrument improves your skill of translating something you see (sheet music) to something you actually do (playing the instrument).


Learning a new language exposes your brain to a different way of thinking, a different way of expressing yourself.

You can even literally take it a step further, and learn how to dance. Studies indicate that learning to dance helps seniors avoid Alzheimer’s. Not bad, huh?

4. Follow a brain training program

The Internet world can help you improve your brain function while lazily sitting on your couch. A clinically proven program like BrainHQ can help you improve your memory, or think faster, by just following their brain training exercises.

5. Work your body

You knew this one was coming didn’t you? Yes indeed, exercise does not just work your body; it also improves the fitness of your brain.

Even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. But it’s not just that–exercise actually helps your brain create those new neural connections faster. You will learn faster, your alertness level will increase, and you get all that by moving your body.

Now, if you are not already a regular exerciser, and already feel guilty that you are not helping your brain by exercising more, try a brain training exercise program like Exercise Bliss.

Remember, just like we discussed in #2, by training your brain to do something new repeatedly, you are actually changing yourself permanently.

6. Spend time with your loved ones

If you want optimal cognitive abilities, then you’ve got to have meaningful relationships in your life.  Talking with others and engaging with your loved ones helps you think more clearly, and it can also lift your mood.

If you are an extrovert, this holds even more weight for you. At a class at Stanford University, I learned that extroverts actually use talking to other people as a way to understand and process their own thoughts.


I remember that the teacher told us that after a personality test said she was an extrovert, she was surprised. She had always thought of herself as an introvert. But then, she realized how much talking to others helped her frame her own thoughts, so she accepted her new-found status as an extrovert.

7. Avoid crossword puzzles

Many of us, when we think of brain fitness, think of crossword puzzles. And it’s true–crossword puzzles do improve our fluency, yet studies show they are not enough by themselves.

Are they fun? Yes. Do they sharpen your brain? Not really.

Of course, if you are doing this for fun, then by all means go ahead. If you are doing it for brain fitness, then you might want to choose another activity

8. Eat right – and make sure dark chocolate is included

Foods like fish, fruits, and vegetables help your brain perform optimally. Yet, you might not know that dark chocolate gives your brain a good boost as well.

When you eat chocolate, your brain produces dopamine. And dopamine helps you learn faster and remember better. Not to mention, chocolate contains flavonols, antioxidants, which also improve your brain functions.

So next time you have something difficult to do, make sure you grab a bite or two of dark chocolate!

Now that you know how to train your brain, it’s actually time to start doing.

Don’t just consume this content and then go on with your life as if nothing has changed. Put this knowledge into action and become smarter than ever!

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via

Read Next