To Cram or Not to Cram: 10 Recent Studies on Studying and What They Tell Us

The average college student in the United States spends about 30 hours per week studying. That’s right. Put down your Xbox controller, sign off Facebook, and start reading that textbook. Or maybe not. With the advent of more sophisticated technology, scientists have been able to uncover new advances in how people learn like never before.

We’re revealing ten recent studies and revelations on studying conducted by scientists, universities, and experts across the globe. You may have time for all those mind numbing activities after all.

  1. Forget What You Know About Good Study HabitsBrain: In an interview with “The New York Times,” Dr. Robert Bjork, a psychologist at UCLA discusses traditional thinking regarding study habits. The idea of being a visual learner or right and left brained are tossed out in favor of associations. Bjork hypothesizes that when something is learned in an environment that varies, the information becomes enriched and harder to forget. The same also goes for teaching styles.
    Tip: Vary up your study environment and associate what you learned with where you learned it.
  2. You Must Remember This: Scientific American hypothesizes what makes something memorable. A person encounters numerous things in a given day, so why do some memories become undelibly imprinted and others simply vanish? A team led by neuroscientist Ueli Rutishauser of the California Institute of Technology delved into the cellular workings of the hippocampus and found the faint sounds that individual neurons make as they send information to one another by way of spikes. While spikes alone did not determine how well something was remembered, they were part of the synchrony that helps people form lasting memories.
    Tip: Warm up your mind before studying by doing short brain teasers.
  3. Two is the Magic Number: When studying, as with anything else, one just might be the loneliest number. Science has shown that from the very first days of life, relationships shape our experience, character, and even biology. John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago helped coin the term “social neuroscience” and explains it more in this article from He shares the tales of how successful people have had at least one person by their side during their achievements. He also dispels the myth of the “lone genius” and gives several examples.
    Tip: Find a study buddy who works well with you.
  4. Learning Makes me Grow Bigger: Rachel blogs on psychology for Evidence Based Mummy. A recent entry examined a study done on a group of four year olds who were asked why they go to school. Even at a young age, children could already list the benefits of an education including intellectual, social, and self-improvement. They also recognized their duty to become educated, as well as the need to fulfill the desires of their parents.
    Tip: Studying can be hard, but keeping the final goal in mind can be a strong motivator.
  5. The Straight Dope on Learning Styles : Mind Hacks is popular blog that brings you neuroscience and psychology tricks to find out what’s going on inside your brain. In this post, they discuss how people learn and think. Various learning styles are discussed including visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and many others. Using a friend as an example, the blogger explains how students can adapt.
    Tip: Find out which learning style you prefer, and use it during your studies.
  6. Bring on the Learning Revolution: Creativity expert Ken Robinson challenges the way people learn and is pioneering a rethink of school’s curriculum’s and how to cultivate creativity. In this interview for TED, he makes the case for a radical shift from standardized schools to personalized learning. The main focus is how people can best utilize their talents. You can also check out a video from him on his theory that schools kill creativity here.
    Tip: Know your strengths and go with them.
  7. Trying to Learn How Learning Works: According to USA Today, behavioral and brain tests can now identify dyslexic tendencies as early as infancy. As a result, how our brains work when studying and learning are all the more illuminating. Among some of the findings are that learning is computational, social, and brain driven. Andrew Meltzoff of the University of Washington in Seattle also speaks of “our capacity to invent tools to amplify our own sensory and motor abilities.”
    Tip: Sometimes going with your gut is good.
  8. Implicit Learning: Have a buddy who is always going on and on about how high his/her I.Q. is? Then have a look at this blog entry from the Frontal Cortex. The post explores the flaws of standard intelligence tests and the inability to grade the vast majority of the information processing taking place inside our heads.
    Tip: You might not be as smart as you think, or you may be even smarter.
  9. Your Brain on Fast Food: It’s not just the food police who are dissing the drive-thru. Jason Goldman is a graduate student at the University of Southern California and studies the way the environment interacts with biology to produce behaviors. Three experiments examined how those who enjoy fast food react to learning, prioritizing, and spending money. Whether or not fast food affects decisions is still a mystery.
    Tip: If fast food is negatively impacting your studying, it might be in more ways than one.
  10. Nations of the World: With nearly 200 countries on seven continents, is it really feasible to think that you can learn them all? Use some musical studying and a hilarious clip from the series “Animaniacs” to do so in a two minute tune. A good choice for younger students and adults with a generous sense of humor. There are also songs for the 50 states and their capitals, along with U.S. presidents.  Using mnemonic devices is a great study tool for a lot of people.
    Tip: Studying made fun is time well spent.

The bottom line is this: do what works for you. If cramming is your thing, cram away. If you prefer a library desk in the middle of the night, it might just be because that’s the best way for you to learn. Itching for more information on how the brain works? Click here for more fascinating information on how the brain works. Have any study tips that work for you?