September 23rd, 2010

Study Time and Study Habits


How often has this happened? After a test has been returned, a disappointed, sometimes distressed, student approaches after class, and says something like, “I can’t believe it! I studied 10 hours for this test and I still did poorly.” Most of us respond with some version of “but it’s not the quantity of time spent studying, it’s the quality of that study time.” And this pretty obvious insight has been confirmed by some recent research.

What makes the research in the article referenced below noteworthy is its analysis of the influence of three specific study strategies: scheduling (as in how often and how regularly students reviewed course materials), attention (how focused students were both during class and during their review times) and notes (whether students had access to and used a good set of class notes). Across a range of findings, researchers report two results they did not expect.

First, their data show that “study-habit scheduling” was negatively related to semester GPA (in this study the GPAs of junior and senior business students), “implying that students who waited until the last minute to study or work on their projects performed better [yes, better] than those students who used a more consistent approach in the short term.” (p. 236) As counterintuitive and discouraging as this finding is, other empirical support for it does exist—I’ll reference an impressive study of cramming below.

I believe these results occur because of the way assignments are designed—they are structured so that students can do them all at once, and if students do them that way and still get appropriate grades, persuading them that there’s a better way is a hard sell.

The second finding also involved a negative interaction between study time and having access to a good set of notes. “The negative interaction indicated that CGPA [cumulative GPA] was higher for those students who had access to a good set of notes but spent less time studying compared to those students who also had access to a good set of notes and also spent more time studying.” (p. 236) So the good notes work only if students are spending their study time efficiently. Or maybe, the good notes work because they are clear, well organized, and make sense, so students don’t need to spend time trying to figure out what they mean.

The relationship between study time and academic performance (which may or may not be the same as learning) is more complicated than students realize. We need to reinforce the message that study time may be less about quantity and more about quality.

References: Nomis, S. A. and Hudson, G. I. (2010). Performance of college students: Impact of study time and study habits, Journal of Education for Business, 85, 229-238.

McIntyre, S. H., and Munson, J. M. (2008). Exploring cramming: Student behaviors, beliefs, and learning retention in the principles of marketing course.” Journal of Marketing Education, 30 (3), 226-243.