Opinion Blog

Ask a Psychologist

Helping Students Thrive Now

Angela Duckworth and other behavioral-science experts offer advice to teachers based on scientific research. To submit questions, use this form or #helpstudentsthrive. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

You’re Studying Wrong! Here’s How to Fix It

By Robert A. Bjork — March 09, 2022 1 min read
What's a common mistake students make when studying?
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

This is the second in a four-part series on the science of learning. You can read the first one, by Elizabeth Ligon Bjork, here.

What’s a common mistake students make when studying?

Students often study or practice one aspect of to-be-learned knowledge or skills at a time, but that’s usually not the best strategy. Here’s something I wrote recently about the topic for Character Lab as a Tip of the Week:

Some years ago, I mentioned to a journalist that varying practice is better for learning, but most people don’t do it. For example, I said, people practice golf in a decidedly nonoptimal way.

Intrigued, the journalist arranged to meet me and two of my colleagues at a driving range, where we watched golfers working hard to improve their game. Invariably, they would line up their stance with the tee, then hit many shots at a particular target with a particular club before switching to a different club and target.

What they were doing might be a good way to practice if the goal is to use one club to hit the same distance at the same target several times in a row. But it’s a terrible way if you want to play well on a real course, where the lie is almost never perfectly level, there are delays between successive shots, and you rarely use the same club twice in a row.

Research has shown that varying both what and where you practice has benefits. In one famous experiment, children played a game where the goal was to throw bean bags at a target on the floor. Some kids did all their practice with the target four feet away, while others practiced at a mixture of three or five feet away. Even though the second group never practiced at the four-foot distance, they were more accurate at that distance on a later test.

Similarly, conventional wisdom says that students should find one good place to study and stick with it. But research finds that changing locations to study the same material can improve memory on a test conducted in an entirely new location.

Don’t always practice the same things in the same way in the same place.

Do get young people to vary how they practice. Suggest different ways to study the same material—say, create a timeline of events and rewrite false sentences to make them true. And help students find a variety of distraction-free places to study. All learning—school and sports and anything else—benefits from a mix.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Ask a Psychologist: Helping Students Thrive Now are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Classroom Technology Webinar
How to Leverage Virtual Learning: Preparing Students for the Future
Hear from an expert panel how best to leverage virtual learning in your district to achieve your goals.
Content provided by Class
English-Language Learners Webinar AI and English Learners: What Teachers Need to Know
Explore the role of AI in multilingual education and its potential limitations.
Education Webinar The K-12 Leader: Data and Insights Every Marketer Needs to Know
Which topics are capturing the attention of district and school leaders? Discover how to align your content with the topics your target audience cares about most. 

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Spotlight Spotlight on Student Engagement & Motivation
This Spotlight will help you with insights into educators’ strategies for engagement, explore how podcasts are boosting engagement, and more.
Teaching Opinion Want to Engage Students? Model Real-World Experiences
Students like a challenge. Give them an opportunity to imagine how they would solve a problem.
14 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
Teaching Opinion Teachers, Don't Take Your Work Home and Other Reminders
Some teaching strategies are tried-and-true, but fresh ideas may add more zest to your classroom and your regimen.
2 min read
opinion classroom q&a teaching
F. Sheehan for EdWeek / Getty