Friday, 6 April 2012

Exam dates published = unproductive behaviour change

When studying for exams, I was given three bits of advice:

(1) Get plenty of sleep
(2) Exercise
(3) Eat plenty of fruit and veg.

This advice should seem fairly obvious. All of the above has been shown time and time again to to maximize cognitive function.

Yet what actually happens is the complete opposite - even amongst psychology students who should know better! The library has begun to fill with a large number of people who spend all day everyday glued to their books. The gym has emptied. Healthy food is usually off the menu.

I have a theory, which remains totally untested!

As an exam gets closer, anxiety levels rise accordingly. For many, this anxiety will increase when they remove themselves from their standard studying environment. This becomes a reinforcer and as studying becomes habitual, little time is made for anything else.

Once the deadline or exam passes, life returns to normal.

This may apply to other stressful deadlines throughout life, which often cause a dramatic behaviour change that is counter productive to the final goal. It is not the quantity of effort - anyone can sit down and stare at some notes for 12 hours a day and pretend to study.

Actually understanding what those notes mean will require some reflection away from them! Anyway, to all those students who I have taught or spoken to in some capacity this year - Good Luck!!