five pitfalls students should avoid

Shaking with coffee, opening your course at three o’clock in the morning the day before the exam: it can happen to any student, but almost everyone will agree that it is not a good study method. What other pitfalls can you avoid during the exam period?

Kelly Van Droogenbroeck

Staying within your comfort zone

The block is anything but comfortable. You don’t see your friends much, you sit behind a window melting away while the temperatures outside finally rise, and you are haunted in your dreams by that one exam question you didn’t know the answer to. The temptation in those circumstances to grasp at any straw that feels familiar is great. However, as far as the subject matter is concerned, it is better not to do that.

“Students think that subject matter they still recognize from the lesson is actually already in their brain,” says Tine Hoof, researcher at the Expertise Center for Effective Learning at Thomas More University of Applied Sciences. “But that is not necessarily so. Sometimes that recognition creates the illusion of competence. Instead of simply marking words or endlessly rereading a text, you should test yourself and, for example, take a sheet of paper with you at that moment, write down the key words in the margin, and half an hour later try to explain those words by yourself.”

Study only in writing or orally

Everyone likes to feel unique. But when it comes to study method, we are a lot less than we think. It is a myth that everyone has their own way of studying best. “Research shows that there is no such thing as a ‘picture thinker’ or a ‘word thinker’,” says Hoof. “You may prefer to study orally or in writing, but that does not mean that you process the material better.”

In fact, a combination of the two would best help most brains retain knowledge. Mind maps or concept maps are widely praised tools for this: “They help you visually draw lines between elements of the subject matter that belong together”, says pedagogue Wouter Smets (Erasmus University Rotterdam). “Our brain works in similar schemes, so it can process the material better.”

Make too good a summary

We discuss this pitfall here for anyone who has ever bought pastel fluorescent markers. Or a four-color ballpoint pen – no, not the standard model, but the one with the rose-purple-light green-light blue ink. And certainly for those who watched videos on TikTok of other students who showed off their aesthetic summary and therefore felt themselves having to throw the entire page in the paper bin after a writing error crossed out.

“Making a summary should not be a pre-study phase. It really has to be part of the learning process,” says Hoof. “The idea is that you reshape the subject matter. If you just blindly copy it from your book or focus on drawing the margin as straight as possible, it’s a waste of time.” Buying a summary from another student – ​​or having one made by ChatGTP – is not recommended for the same reason.

Comparing your schedule with others too much

Yes, Lisa from the statistics group is already bragging in the community chat group about how many pages she learned that day. But no, that doesn’t mean your learning method is inefficient. Those who feel better about not getting behind their books until around noon, are welcome to do so. “It is good to take your own biorhythm into account during the study period,” says study supervisor Kaat Terryn (VUB). “If you know that you can never get up at eight o’clock normally, don’t plan it that way. Start a little later and go a little longer.” Please note: staying through the night does not match anyone’s biorhythm and is therefore never a good idea.

But even though we have our own rhythm, blocking together can be a good idea. Seeing studying, makes studying: the rising popularity of ‘study with me’videos on YouTube proves that many people have already understood that. For ten hours, a student, sometimes on the other side of the world, films how he does school work from behind his desk and occasionally takes a break. For those who can’t get to the library, such a video can be a good concentration aid. “Although as a student you have to feel for yourself when you need a break,” says Terryn. “Something like that differs from person to person, and from day to day.”


Studying with music in the background or walking in the park: some students swear by it. “A great deal has been written recently, especially about moving learning,” says Smets. “If you sit in the same position for a long time, your body literally falls asleep. And so it is better to stand up from time to time or to study on an exercise bike. But there’s little evidence that that really helps. If your walk in the park is nothing but distractions, don’t kid yourself that you learn better there.”

The same goes for music: if you get really demotivated without it, choose smartly. Don’t go for the new record of your favorite artist whose lyrics you want to understand. And preferably use a CD or record player. Because all experts agree on one thing: even on airplane mode, a smartphone is just about the most distracting study companion you can choose.

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