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How to study better: What the latest research tells us

How to study better
Joining competitions increases pupils' competence. Source: Kyle Gregory Devaras/Unsplash

The goal of every college student is to find the answer to the million dollar question: how to study better? Preferably, with as minimum effort put in for maximum results.

Who better to turn to than science for advice on how to study better? Here’s what the latest research has to say:

1. Stressed? Harness it

It’s all about perspective. The feeling of being stressed is just our body getting ready to take on a challenge, according to Mandie Shean, a lecturer at the School of Education, Edith Cowan University. It increases oxygen to the brain to improve attention, focus, energy and determination.

When we view stressful events like exams as a threat, then we let it interfere with our attention and reduce working memory. Instead, try viewing it more positively. When students understand that stress isn’t harmful and it actually helps us cope and perform better, they generally perform significantly better in exams than those who just ignore stress and suppress their emotions.

“To put it simply, stress can be good if we believe it’s good. It’ll work for us if we develop a mindset that stress helps our performance, health and well-being (rather than seeing it as debilitating),” wrote Shean.

2. Don’t just join extra-curricular activities. Compete!

Primary school students who join these activities enjoy better self-esteem and resilience, as well as being better at making new friends and enjoying better grades. But sustaining it can be tough. One key factor that helps is when these activities let students compete and represent their schools.


Research by University of Brighton PhD researcher and lecturer, David Glynne-Percy, found that these students received important feedback from adults and other children. This “really enhanced their enjoyment of the experience and raised their competency levels,” Glynne-Percy wrote.

“In many cases, within six months of starting the activity, the children featured had developed into an ambassador for it and were encouraging and initiating new members. Seven of the 20 children had better school attendance after participating and a quarter of the children improved academically in class.”

3. Bring cursive handwriting back

Hetty Roessingh is a Professor at the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary. As a researcher who has studied the relationship between handwriting and literacy, she makes a case in The Conversation that “touching a “d” on the keyboard, for example, does not create the internal model of a “d” that printing does”.

Being able to write fluently leads to “more working memory capacity available to plan, organise, revise and retrieve sophisticated vocabulary,” according to Roessingh. On the other hand, her research found those who had not achieved the necessary threshold in handwriting could not communicate the complexity of vocabulary and ideas expected in Grade 4.

“The key is not only teaching cursive, but a greater focus on all printing to cursive handwriting, spelling instruction and fine motor skills. These developments are essential for literacy foundations in the kindergarten to Grade 3 years”.

4. Get your teachers to ‘pressure’ you

Teachers’ expectations can lead to students working harder, researchers at the University of Oxford and UNSW found. Year five and six students in UK schools were asked to report why they were doing the task at hand by ticking “I enjoyed it”, “I chose to do it”, “I was interested in it”, “I had to do it” and “my teacher wanted me to do it”. The last two options were classed as “pressure expectations”.


The findings showed that “the higher the pressure expectations in a lesson, the harder students worked in subsequent lessons”. But before you get your teacher to start pressuring you, note that you might end up with less enjoyment and confidence in your lessons, as the research found too.

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