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6 October 2010

ProcrastiNation: Old Habits Might Make Studying Harder

It’s that time of the semester again. Midterms are looming, papers are piling up and all that procrastination is starting to take a toll. For many, this has been the week from hell.

Somewhere out there, students that do all their required reading and finish essays days in advance must exist, but procrastination is a temptation that everyone succumbs to at one time or another. Sometimes the magnetic pull of Facebook, friends or TV are just too powerful to resist, but too much procrastination can be a slippery slope.

“I end up studying the day before because I feel like it’s hard to retain knowledge before that,” said senior Steven Levy, who is majoring in motion pictures and psychology.

Levy has spent the last week preparing for two tests, working on a Photoshop project and editing video. Although he has so many assignments for the week, he did not start working on them until this weekend.

According to Levy, one of the reasons why students wait until the last minute to study for tests is because of the way they have been taught since elementary school. Students in college are unmotivated to really learn subjects that are not related to their major.

“The way our education system works, we learn for a test, so once it’s over we forget that information and make room for the new information,” Levy said.

In some cases, a deadline helps students focus and stay on task, but walking the fine line between rushing to finish a project last minute and setting responsible deadlines is a skill that must be mastered.

“I’ve always been someone that enjoys the pressure of having a time limit,” said senior Drew Spears, another motion pictures major. “I do feel the stress, but I always end up getting my work done. I work best when I do it shortly before deadline.”

Everyone has individualized study skills and different ways of getting work done, but recent studies have shown that some of the old tried-and-true methods that many students swear by are actually ineffective.

“The best way for me to study is going to the second floor of the library. It’s quieter than the first floor, but not as quiet as the stacks which are creepy,” said sophomore Cassandra Pino, a biology major.

That old standby, the special nook in the library or the study room in the dorm might not be the best place to get work done. In one 1978 study, psychologists found that college students who studied a list of 40 vocabulary words in two different rooms tested higher than students who studied the words twice in the same room.

The brain makes subconscious associations between what is being studied at the time and the surrounding environment. The more associations the brain is forced to make with a specific piece of information, the more chances a student has of remembering it. Associating the New Deal with a roommate’s music is good, but then associating the New Deal again with the sound of the wind blowing through the trees by the lake gives the brain another path to remember it by.

“I make a lot of flash cards and I have to listen to Jack Johnson,” Pino said. “That’s what makes me remember things.”

Holing up in the stacks might be an effective way to cram at the last minute, but for information that has to be retained, studying it in more than one location will improve the brain’s chances at real retention.

Another classic study strategy, setting aside one day for just one subject, may be doing more harm than good. Switching between different types of material, from reviewing notes, to reading, to practicing a new language, leaves a deeper impression on the brain than concentrating on just one thing at a time.

Musicians and athletes use this trick every day: they practice one skill, like doing scales or lifting weights, and then switch to another during their practice routine.

Another often overlooked factor is the time of day a student studies. According to a study by the Association of American Publishers, getting done earlier in the evening, between 6 p.m. and midnight, increases the student’s likelihood of getting an A twice as much. Part of college culture is doing work late at night, which is a time when a lot of students are most productive. Successful preparation for school includes knowing what time of day is best for each individual student.

“I like to work late at night or early in the morning before an assignment is due because I feel that it is a tranquil time with the least amount of distraction,” Spears said.

For most keeping up with schoolwork simply means staying organized. Whether a student is a die hard procrastinator, or a workaholic, everyone still has due dates to keep track of.

“I think I’m less stressed by being organized, because I have everything planned out,” Pino said. “It’s definitely better for my sanity.”

Laura Edwins may be contacted at ledwins@themiamihurricane.com and Alexandra Leon may be contacted at aleon@themiamihurricane.com.

SIDEBAR: Tips to break the procrastination cycle

– Figure out the time of day you work best. Whether it’s 7 a.m. or 11 p.m., make sure you do your most important tasks during that time.

– Break big projects, long papers and group projects into smaller more manageable chunks to work on a little at a time.

– When you start to feel distracted make a rule that you’re not allowed to move out of chair or surf the net until you finish that chapter.

– Reward yourself for all your hard work. Take yourself out for a special lunch after midterms, but if you don’t earn the reward, don’t take it.