November 16, 2013

Help Students Develop Good Study Habits

by Katherine Logan, Pharm.D. PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, Suburban Hospital

Developing good study habits as a student is of upmost importance, not only in formal learning environments but also in life. Being organized and having good time management skills can aid in this process.  Teachers need to encourage and develop these skills in students, residents, and other trainees.

As a fourth-grader, I attended a class that discussed study and test taking habits. I still use techniques that were discussed that day!  I believe these skills should be developed early.1 The earlier students are empowered with this knowledge, the more practice they will have using these skills and the greater likelihood they will be successful in and outside the classroom. What are some methods teachers can employ to help students develop good study habits?  Let’s examine a few strategies.

Maintain a Planner1
Once students are able to read, teachers can have them try different planners.1 This allows them to see assignments ahead of time. Having students try out different types will allow them to see which works best for them. Teachers can encourage this behavior by having the entire class discuss it. Ask students to discuss the benefits of planners compared to calendars. As a resident, I keep a detailed planner.  One my peers prefers to keep a printout on her calendar on a bulletin board at work and home.

Test Knowledge Between Tests
Many students are afraid of tests, and as such, need more experience taking them to build their level of comfort. Giving quizzes can help learners adjust to the types of questions asked by specific teachers. Quizzes also force students stay on top of studying, and help to break up the overall class grade into smaller percentages.2 This break-up of the grade could help alleviate some of the stress associated with major tests.2 A study of pharmacy students found that half quizzed themselves while studying to see how well they understood the material and many found quizzes more effective than re-reading material.2

Practice makes Perfect1
Homework can also help students.1 Homework deadlines encourage students to keep a schedule. Subtract points from the assignment for every day it is late. Rewards can be given to the student(s) with the most assignments that were turned in on time.1

Give Practice Problems1
Make practice problems required.1 My first chemistry teacher gave the class a list of problems from the book and each problem had to be completed and handed in prior to the test. Sometimes it was stressful to get the problems done on time, but it meant that I was constantly studying and reinforcing my knowledge.  A study by Sansgiry and colleagues demonstrated “that students who have difficulty in coping and managing the study material for tests will have a lower GPA.”2

Create a Healthy Study Environment1
Another important aspect of studying is the surrounding environment.4 Some people can only study in the library; others prefer listening to music. Talk to your students about options such as sitting at the coffee table or staying after school to work in the library.1 Many distractions confront students today; social media in particular is very distracting. It is important to teach students to separate themselves from these potential distractions.  Another important consideration is the time of day spent studying. Some learners prefer staying up late and studying. Personally, I have always felt that my brain shuts down after 11 pm.  So, I always made sure that my studying took place earlier in the day. Students should remain realistic and plan their study habits around the way their minds and bodies function best as each person is different.

Discuss Proper Study Materials1
Good study habits mean having good study materials.1 Producing organized and detailed notes are another way to reinforce good study habits. Teachers can create notes with fill-in-the-blank entries, which keeps students’ attention. 1 Another option is to create general notes and leave spaces to add more details later. These notes should be kept in a binder with numbered pages so students can keep them in order. Study materials also include the supplies necessary to study.1 Some students make flashcards and others may need to rewrite notes.4 Students that rely on such aids should keep a good supply of notecards, legal pads, and pens.1

Suggest Study Breaks
The brain needs rest. Metcalfe and Kornell argue that the length of time spent studying is based on the “judgment rate of learning” or the rate that learning occurs.4 Once the rate of learning drops, retention stops for a time.4 Since many people are unaware of their learning rate, I the recommendation from the RxPREP Course Book is a good one: “do not study for more than 45-50 minutes” at a time, and “do some type of physical activity during short breaks.”

The suggestions above are just a few of the ways to teach good study habits. These skills will aid students throughout their lives.  They will be able to complete tasks in a timely fashion as well as learn the conditions they best operate. Teachers should make these skills a priority in all academic settings beginning in elementary school and reinforced all way through graduate school.

2.  Sansgiry SS, Bhosle M, Sail K. Factors that affect academic performance among pharmacy students. Am J Pharm Educ. 2006; 70: Article 104.
3.  Donohoe L, Mawyer M, Stevens T, Morgan A, Harpe E. Student pharmacists’ perceptions of testing and study strategies. Am J Pharm Educ. 2011; 75:  Article 35
4.  Kornell N, Bjork R. The promise and perils of self-regulated study. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review. 2007; 14:219-224.
5.  Shapiro D, Brown SA. RxPREP Course Book: A Comprehensive Course for the NAPLEX & CPJE. 2013 Ed. RxPrep, Inc; 2013

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