As a student, how often did you sit down at the same desk to study? For many people, studying becomes a habit that doesn’t take on many different forms. Finding a go-to quiet spot that is free of distractions or a coffee shop table with just enough hustle and bustle to help you focus can easily become the norm. While it probably does not seem like there is anything wrong with your favorite study routine, scientific evidence suggests you switch it up a bit in order to get the best results.
One way to help your brain form a stronger neural connection with the information that you are learning is to study the material in a variety of settings. You don’t even notice it, but your brain constantly absorbs all kinds of background information about your environment. If you study your vocabulary words in the kitchen one day and then the backyard the next day, for instance, your brain associates the different background sensations that it perceives with the words to promote better retention. In essence, you are providing more “neural scaffolding” to help your mind latch on to whatever concept you are trying to learn by making multiple associations. Just like you remember the lyrics to your favorite song as you sing a long in your car, bedroom, and office, you are less likely to forget something that you experienced more than once in a variety of settings.
But that’s not all. Remember that time you crammed for a test the night before and then forgot everything as soon as it was over? Changing your study place is one important factor contributing to retention of information, but so is the frequency, duration, and diversity of your study time. As most of us know, it is important to review information consistently over a long period of time in order to best digest it. It is also better to vary the type of material studied in a single sitting. In one experiment published in the Journal of Psychology and Aging, both college-age students and adults of retirement age were better able to recognize the style of 12 unfamiliar artists when they viewed the paintings among mixed collections versus viewing a dozen works of one particular painter, then moving on to the next.
Take a second to re-examine your study habits or those of people around you. Something as simple as studying in different places could make a significant difference in the quality of your study time!