By Joseph Contezac and Darlene Valdez
If you go in any coffee shop or public place on a college campus other than the library, you will see students studying and chatting with their friends. But is chatting while you study preventing you from remembering key info on that test you are studying for? Though studying with a partner has been shown to actually help with remembering information, simply chatting about everyday things while you study is a distraction that is anything, but helpful to your academic success. Due to the amount of media we consume and how readily available it is, millennials have adopted “strategies” for multitasking. Millennials in general, are all about multitasking, especially when the amount of work you have is not equal to the amount of time you have to do it. Focusing more on chatting and studying, it is important to note the reasons why this might be affecting your ability to remember key material. It all comes down to the concepts of divided attention, and the distinction between on-topic and off-topic conversation.
Having the privilege to bring your laptops to take notes during lecture because your professor speaks really fast or it’s just easily accessible in the future can have its downfalls. College is all about how much self-disciple you have. How tempting is it to open a new tab to check the recent Facebook statuses. Or online shopping for a new outfit this weekend demands a lot of mental resources. Professor Meyers, who studies the effects of divided attention on learning says “under most conditions, the brain simply cannot do two complex tasks at the same time. It can happen only when the two tasks are both very simple and when they don’t compete with each other for the same mental resources. Listening to a lecture while texting, or doing homework and being on Facebook—each of these tasks is very demanding, and each of them uses the same area of the brain, the prefrontal cortex.” Contrary to popular opinion or habits, “empirical research shows that studying, doing homework, learning during lectures, learning from other sources, grades, and GPA likely are all negatively affected by concurrent multitasking with technology” (1) If the attention is divided due to these tasks, that means that attention is divided during encoding, in which we “remember that piece of information less well-or not at all” causing the quality of your performance to decrease (2).
You might feel comfortable in the way that you have been studying for chapter tests in high school. Studying an hour, the night before a test was more than sufficient to get that A on your U.S. History class. Unfortunately, for your History 1001 class that only has a midterm and a final exam, as much as you believe in yourself, you can’t memorize half of the book the night before. (despite the various red bulls that you take for the all-nighter). Therefore, as you’re starting to study for exams, there are a couple of mechanisms that can be done that can positively affect your academic performance. One being, reading out loud important dates, people, and events as you’re going over your notes. If you read half of a page’s worth of notes silently and the other half out loud you are enhancing your memory in a distinctive way. Distinctiveness distinguishes this information in your brain. For example, just as you remember that weird zebra polka dot shirt hanging in the back of the closet you remember this information because it’s atypical for someone to read out loud. Typical encoding techniques that are recommended are time consuming. They require you to be “imaginative engaged, or physically active, or to acquire specially prepared materials prior to study”. According to researchers, reading out loud and silently for one subject is known as the production effect. (3). Reading out loud while studying can attract weird looks, however it is an effective strategy for remembering materials.
If you chose not to have a study group because you have less than 10 hours before your exam, you can also teach someone else. It doesn’t necessarily have to be someone in your class, if you happen to be reviewing your material while your roommate is in the room ask her to pause her episode of The Office for a couple minutes as you teach her about the difference between Juvenile and adult court from your Criminology class. If you have the ability to teach someone then it is assumed that you understand the material. If your roommate who has no interest or background in criminology can identify at least two differences than you have done your job as an teacher.
If you much rather prefer to study with others there can be various pros and cons to studying group. As mentioned before, the production effect technique is great if you’re alone, but then people might look at you crazy. On the contrary, studying in groups and verbalizing your ideas has been proven to increase your academic performance. Explaining lessons and concepts to others, teaching your group allows you have a better understanding about the subject, giving you enough confidence to reiterate and teach. Studying in a collaborative setting not only motivates you to learn the material in depth but as you are explaining the concepts, putting the material in your own words enhances your learning. This is known as cooperative learning. “The use of cooperative learning groups in instruction is based on the principle of constructivism, with particular attention to the contribution that social interaction can make”. D.Johnson, R.Johnson, and K.Smith performed a meta-analysis of 168 studies comparing cooperative learning to competitive learning and individualistic learning in college students. Results demonstrating that cooperative learning produced greater academic achievement than both competitive learning and individualistic learning across the studies”(4)
There is a big distinction between studying with a friend and studying with a tutor or someone who knows a lot about what you are studying. When studying with a tutor, studies have found that off-topic conversations may have some benefits to the student and his or her relationship with the tutor. In fact, a tutors ability to occasionally engage in off-topic conversation is critical to a student’s motivation, study skills and overall confidence(5). This of course has its limits, based upon the amount of time that people are “off-topic” and the tutors ability to bring the focus back to material. By engaging in off-topic conversation, a tutor is engaging the student more and by extension helping their comprehension of the material. However, this is vastly different from you and your best friend chatting it up while “studying” for that upcoming test. In this case, a stronger relationship is probably not the first thing you should be worrying about and social conversation is not helping our cause.
In general, it is okay to study with a partner, it may actually improve your memory, just make sure to limit distraction. Also, don’t get too caught up in outside conversations that have absolutely nothing to do with the material. So chat away, kind of.
- Carrier, L. M., Rosen, L. D., Cheever, N. A., & Lim, A. F. (2015). Causes, effects, and practicalities of everyday multitasking. Developmental Review,35,
- Paul, A. M. (2013, May 03). The New Marshmallow Test: Students Can’t Resist Multitasking. Retrieved April 20, 2017, from http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2013/05/multitasking_while_studying_divided_attention_and_technological_gadgets.html
- Bodner, G. E., & MacLeod, C. M. (2016). The benefits of studying by production . . . and of studying production: Introduction to the special issue on the production effect in memory. Canadian Journal of
Experimental Psychology, 70(2),
- Johnson, D., Johnson, R., & Smith, K. (2007). The State of Cooperative Learning in Postsecondary and Professional Settings. Educational Psychology Review, 19(1), 15-29. doi:10.1007/s10648-006-9038-8
- Lehhman, B., Cade, W., & Olney, A. Off Topic Conversation
in Expert Tutoring: Waste of Time or Learning Opportunity?. Retrieved April 25,