By Kyle Oakes
Have you ever left class and wondered why you can barely remember a thing? I want you to try to remember what you were doing in that class. If you are like most college students, you probably snuck in a text message during the class, or maybe you clicked on that Facebook notification that popped up. Maybe you just dozed off. All of these could be affecting your grade drastically. In order to help your grade, you want to set those notifications, and ringer, on silent for the duration of the course, and stop dividing your attention to the wrong thing.
Divided attention is focusing your attention on more than one thing at the same time. Divided attention has a wide variety of complexity. Some people may think they are good at dividing their attention, or multitasking, because they believe they can do more than one thing at a time. In some cases, they may be right. In a study by Walter Schneider and Robert Shiffrin (1977), it was found that if you practice a task enough, it can become easier for you to divide your attention between two tasks. For example, driving and talking with people in the car on a familiar road with light traffic it is quite easy. This is because they are both practiced tasks. The study conducted by Schneider and Shiffrin found that, with practice, you can achieve divided attention. The more you repeat something, the better you get at it. You gain what is called automatic processing when you achieve this. Automatic processing is a type of processing that uses only some of a person’s cognitive resources and happens automatically without the person’s intent. But, when the driving task becomes more difficult, like driving down an unfamiliar road, the talking has to stop, and you have to focus all your attention on driving. With the data from Schneider and Shiffrin, they found that if the difficulty of a task increases automatic processing is impossible . Here are four pieces of evidence and suggestions to improve your grades by minimizing your divided attention.
Multi-Tasking Leads to Lower Grades
According to a study conducted by Saraswathi Bellur, Kristine L. Nowak, and Kyle S. Hull, students who multi-task in a class have a lower cumulative college GPA. Their results were collected by survey responses from 361 students. Not only did they find the correlation between lower grades and multi-tasking, but they found that students have to spend a longer time studying when they multitask . Multi-tasking not only affects your grades, but it can affect your driving as well. Driving, like mentioned before, can become difficult. In a study by David L. Strayer, Frak A. Drew, they found that when drivers used their cell phones they were 18 percent slower in braking, and their following distance was 12 percent greater and took longer for them to return to speed after breaking . The brain is focused more on talking than driving. You might think that you are a great multi-tasker because you can talk and drive, but when you are distracted, as you can see, your driving is affected.
Instant Messaging Might Improve Your Social Life, But Not the Grades.
Stop falling for the temptation to instant message (IM) while in class or studying. Instant messaging has become a great tool to stay connected to friends, but you are not paying hundreds of dollars to talk to your friends. A study on instant messaging effects on college students was conducted by Annie Beth Fox, Jonathan Rosen, and Mary Crawford. They had 69 undergraduate students participate in the study using AOL Instant messenger (AIM) to communicate anonymously with a partner. They read one of two passages: one from a practice SAT (low difficulty) and one from a practice GRE (high difficulty). They then answered 14 comprehension questions. They each talked with their partner through AIM for five minutes to get to know each other. They were then handed one of the two passages. They found that the more they talked on AIM, the lower their reading comprehension score was. They also found that the more time spent on AIM, the lower self-reported their GPA . The buzz on the phone puts a lower grade in the grade book. Turn it off!
Facebook Hurts Grades Too!
Another study on technology and multi-tasking showed that using Facebook in class can lead to a lower grade. If you are taking your notes on your laptop it is very easy to surf the internet. With most laptops, you can allow Facebook to send notifications directly to your screen, typically found in the lower right hand corner. That notification makes it easy to take a break from a lecture. In a study by Eileen Wood, they found that their results supported the research on the Bottleneck Theory. The Bottleneck theory suggests that individuals have a limited amount of attention resources that can be used at once. The stimuli gets filtered, and only the most important information is gathered. The results showed that when two cognitive tasks were being performed at the same time there was a reduction in performance in at least one of the tasks. The memory task was the task that was primarily affected. They also proved that students who use Facebook in a lecture scored significantly lower on an exam with lecture content than those who were only allowed to take notes using paper and a pencil . Here’s a tip: take notes the old fashion way. Not only does taking notes on paper eliminate the internet distraction, but if you want your notes written neater, you can rewrite them in a different notebook. This will help you remember what you learned in class and help encode it into your memories.
Sleep is Awesome!
Lastly, if you want to improve your grades, get more sleep. If you are deprived of sleep, your multitasking skills are low-to-nonexistent. When you are studying, your body will be concentrating on sleep more than what you are studying. In a study done by Eric Chern-Pin Chua, Eric Fang, and Joshua J. Gooley, they found that the more impaired you are due to sleep deprivation, the more the ability to divide your attention is negatively affected .
If you want to do better in school, make sure you turn off your phone, and the notifications. Stop trying to divide your attention; it takes away from your grades. You are paying a lot of money to retain the knowledge you are given by the professor. You are better off taking notes with paper and pencil, with your phone on silent and put away than having the internet at your fingertips, and with a good night’s sleep. Study hard, and divide your attention away from the technology and into the books for good grades!
 Goldstein, E.B. (2015). Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience. Stamford, CT, Cengage Learning.
 Bellur, S., Nowak, K. L., & Hull, K. S. (2015). Make it our time: In class multitaskers have lower academic performance. Computers In Human Behavior, 5363-70. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2015.06.027
 Strayer, D. L., & Drew, F. A.(2004). Profiles in Driver Distraction: Effects of Cell Phone Conversations on Younger and Older Drivers. Sage Journals, 46, 640-649. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1518/hfes.46.4.640.56806
 Fox, A. B., Rosen, J., & Crawford, M. (2009) “Distractions, Distractions: Does Instant Messaging Affect College Students’ Performance on a Concurrent Reading Comprehension Task?.” CyberPsychology & Behavior, 12, 51-54. http://users.clas.ufl.edu/msscha/psych/instant_message_student_performance.pdf
 Chua, E. C., Fang, E., & Gooley, J. J. (2017). Effects of total sleep deprivation on divided attention performance. Plos ONE, 12(11), 1-11. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0187098
 Wood, E., Zivcakova, L., Gentile, P., Archer, K., De Pasquale, D., & Nosko, A. (2012). Examining the impact of off-task multi-tasking with technology on real-time classroom learning. Computers & Education, 58(1), 365-374. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2011.08.029