Where to Study?

Starting from a young age, routines are ingrained in everyday life. You go to school, go to your classroom, and then learn about the same subjects in a particular order throughout the day. Then you come home, maybe go to sports practices, eat dinner, take care of chores and responsibilities, and your homework gets done in the same spot every day; for me it was at the kitchen table. From childhood, we have usually been taught to study and do our homework in a quiet and distraction-free space, which for most people, means finding one consistent spot in their house.

While I was taking my course to become a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) for Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, I found this age-old advice to be wrong. The course and the behavior analysts I work with have constantly emphasized the importance of running trials in various settings to increase generalization in a child’s learning. This new knowledge made complete sense to me; you work to teach the basics of life skills and these skills need to become generalized so that the kids can go to school, make friends, ask for help, etc…. Sessions also require a lot of movement to allow kids to interact with each other and do different things, but you have to work on their programs, so why not continue regardless of what room you’re in?

This all made sense to me until I thought about it in the context of learning. I teach kids in different settings, but why was I not taught to do homework or study in different settings? An article in the New York Times, “Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits”, summarizes a study in which one group of college students studied vocabulary words once in two different rooms, and another group studied the same vocabulary words twice in one room. Both groups of students were tested, and the group that studied in both rooms performed better than the group that studied twice in the same room.

The question remains: why does it matter where you study? We were always told to study in a quiet, distraction-free space because that’s the closest we could get to a testing environment when we weren’t taking a test. This makes sense, but why does the location matter? According to the article, the brain is always making subtle associations between what you’re studying and what’s happening in the environment around you; however, when you vary the environment and hold the information constant, the information is able to make stronger connections. This is because the brain is not trying to make connections between the same information and the same environment every time you study. Similarly, varying the type of material seems to result in stronger connections than studying one skill at a time. So, if you prefer that one corner desk in the library, it’s worth switching it up to a different desk or a different corner when studying for that next test.

https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/07/health/views/07mind.html

https://www.mayinstitute.org/news/acl.html?id=400

5 thoughts on “Where to Study?

  1. victoriarulapaugh

    This idea of where to study is really interesting to me because, growing up I studied in my dinning room at the dinning room table, in the same spot, and in the same chair. I thought it was my “study spot”. After reading your blog post it makes more sense that the students who studied in 2 different classrooms did better. I am trying to relate it to my life and growing up I always learned that you should sit int the same seat in class, because that is where you are most comfortable learning. I guess this is not true? Now you are making want to move seats every class, to see if that makes a difference in my cognitive skills!

  2. tmagarit

    I think the idea that where you study affecting your performance is so interesting because as a kid, I remember we would always be switching places and moving around the room for different activities, but in college I mostly just stick to one place and have preferred areas. I feel like it’s so easy to get stuck into the same habits and to not have variety, and it affects our performance without even noticing. I always learned that you are supposed to have a designated space for focus, and when you’re in that space, you know that’s when it’s time to focus, but it’s interesting to see that there have been studies on the opposite that show how it can be beneficial.

  3. hmckeen

    This is a really interesting post, and something I have never considered. I am very much a “creature of habit” so to speak, but I’ve never actively thought about the locations I choose to study in. Reading your post made me realize I actually do always sit in the same spots when studying, whether in that one corner of the library or the same dining room chair at home. The information you shared about ABA Therapy makes good sense. We strive to teach children to be able to adapt to different environments and situations, so it is ironic we get stuck in so many of the same patterns and habits as adults. Reading the findings on study location making a difference in how two groups of college students performed on a vocabulary test made me wonder if perhaps sitting in the same desk during classes every day of the entire semester (as we all tend to do) negatively impacts our learning in any way? We get stuck in a routine and tend not to want to deviate from it. Perhaps a different vantage point looking at different people even within the same classroom could increase our learning and memory of information. Great post!

  4. jwhearty

    I find this concept extremely interesting. I can see how this has been present in my own life. during the warmer months of the semesters, I tend to study in many locations because I’m more willing to walk across campus to the HCC, Library, or my friend’s apartment. during these months I tend to find that studying is easier and goes better. During the winter I tend to only study in my room in the same spot and it seems like studying is more difficult. I wonder how different the environment has to be to make a significant difference in the student’s encoding ability and ability to generalize and not associate the information with a location.

  5. adill98

    I found this post to be very interesting! I also tend to study in the same places and never really switch it up. I know for me, I was taught to study either in my bedroom with the door shut to drown out the sound, or study at the kitchen table with my sibling around me but we both had to be quite. Now I still tend to study in my room or just a quiet room in generally. I feel like if there is a lot going on I get distracted very easily. What I have also found is that the techniques I used to study before I was involved in a car accident resulting in a Traumatic Brain Injury, don’t work now. I now listen to music softly in the background and tend to have to take breaks so I don’t get a headache. Thank you for sharing this, I will take changing my surrounding into consideration when studying next.

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