Why taking study breaks is important
There are two types of people in this world who study for extended periods at a time.
1. Those who are absolutely determined to be one of the seven people nationwide who gets E in Level 3 unfamiliar text,
2. Those who have left everything to the last minute and are desperately trying to learn a standard in a day fuelled by excessive amounts of Red Bull (which gives you heart palpitations, not wings).
We know from science that study breaks are important. That’s right, science actually says you should look at our memes instead of your textbook every now and again.
So kick back, relax, and use a well-deserved break to learn about why you’re actually benefiting your chances of unfamiliar text glory by doing so.
Here’s five science-backed reasons why study breaks are important.
1. This study says so
A 2011 study at the University of Illinois is titled, ‘Brief diversions vastly improve focus, researchers find’, which is pretty apt considering that what the researchers found was that brief diversions vastly improved focus.
Participants were put into groups, with one group taking breaks to perform a completely different task; that group performed significantly better in being able to keep their attention fixed on the main task at hand. Moreover, even though the groups both worked for 50 minutes, those who didn’t take breaks saw a progressive decline in focus.
The researchers concluded that “It was amazing that performance seemed to be unimpaired by time, while for the other groups performance was so clearly dropping off”.
Basically, taking breaks means that you can go for longer, better.
2. This study also says so
One of the more well-known studies (as well-known as any piece of educational psychology literature, which is still less well-known than literally any piece of romantic literature with vampires in it) on the concept of cognitive overload, or “over-learning”, is this 2006 one by the Association of Psychological Science.
In this study, students were given a list of vocabulary to learn, but different timeframes given to learn it. Some were asked to memorise the hell out of it in a longer study session, some were given less time, and some were given breaks.
The researchers found that those who “crammed” were able to perform better when they were tested immediately afterwards; however, this didn’t work out so well when they were tested sometime later.
Instead, the researchers found that: “doing all the study on a single topic into a single session reduces long-term retention. It’s better to leave it alone for a while and then return to it.”
3. They help your working memory out
The part of short-term memory which is concerned with immediate conscious perceptual and linguistic processing.
Broadly speaking, we have a few different psychological categories of memory, each a bit more specific than the classic long and short term.
Our working memory is the capacity that our brain has to immediately process our environment and problem-solve. This means that it’s the memory that’s engaged when we’re reading a Walkthrough Guide, watching an informative video, or attempting to solve an exam question.
Unfortunately, our working memory is finite and limited, unless you take that pill that Bradley Cooper took in Limitless. Our brain only has a small amount of space available to process everything all at once, which leads to the oft-experienced and always-dreaded mind blank – this is called cognitive overload.
In order to help our working memory out, we need to make our ability to recall content off the top of the dome automatic. If I asked you to tell me your phone number, name of your first cat, and any other security information your bank login screen is asking me, you’d be able to do so easily – it’s all up in your long-term memory, and it’s so solid that you can pull it out at any moment. We need this to kinda be the case for Level 2 Genetic Variation and Change if we want to pass.
We do this by processing a limited amount of information at one time when we’re studying (enough to grasp something without being overloaded), and then taking a break.
Do something else for a bit. Then, when you come back, you’re more likely to be able to process new information without it all being too much.
4. Enjoyability and consistency
We’ve said it before and we’ll probably keep saying it until we’re all to old to be taken seriously: study is kind of like the gym. You’re putting yourself through a routine of self-betterment by deliberately practicing a skill, in order to sacrifice short-term pleasure for a long-term goal.
Just like any form of training, whether it’s boxing or piano, the people who have the most skill are generally those who have stuck to it the longest; and we stick to things when they don’t suck so bad.
It’s pretty simple, really. If studying is mind-numbingly boring and unduly painful, you’re probably not going to fit it into your day consistently. If you break it up into small chunks with breaks in between, however, you’ve suddenly made it a whole lot more doable.
We don’t need psychological research taken from Wikipedia to know this one – make study as enjoyable as possible and you’ll stick to it until the results come.
5. The Pomodoro Method
One of our most beloved research-approved study techniques is the ‘Pomodoro Method’. Originating with an educational psychologist a few decades back who timed tasks using a kitchen timer in order to test how intervals improve focus.
Our brain tends to wander after around half-an-hour of attention on a given task, which we can see in those earlier studies that we mentioned. The Pomodoro Method takes advantage of this by setting 25-minute study intervals, with a 5-minute break in between.
Basically, we break up our task into small chunks. We set a goal that we can accomplish in 25 minutes. We set a timer for 25-minutes, and focus 100% on accomplishing it. We take a 5-minute break to flex on Instagram.
You’re getting the best of both worlds – it’s short and painless, and your brain will thank you for it.
Bonus: 6. You deserve it!
So, there you have it – by having a break from what you were missioning through before, you’ve benefited your brain’s ability to properly process that information so that it can have your back when you need it. More than that, you deserve one.
Go hard, rest hard, get credits.