How to Study Less and Learn More

“Study less and learn more.” It’s a concept that sounds almost too good to be true, but as Loomis Chaffee teacher Andrew Watson, an expert on learning and the brain, explained at a convocation on December 6, with the right approach, students really can train their brains to learn more efficiently and effectively.  

Using research-based techniques and interactive examples, Andrew illustrated the positive habits needed to successfully learn and understand new information in the classroom.  

Andrew told the gathered students and faculty about three key ways that students can improve their habits to best use the brain’s ability to learn information: retrieving information when studying, changing the environment to avoid distractions, and bolstering one’s health.  

To study better, he said, students should focus on the idea of retrieval rather than review when studying. By creating flash cards and using visual hints and clues, students retrieve the information they need rather than re-reading material they already have seen. Trying to remember information before looking back at it produces more remembering, and better success, than simply reviewing the information, he said.  

The environment in which a student studies also greatly affects the retention of information because the human brain works best when it focuses on one activity at a time, Andrew explained. A student volunteer helped Andrew complete an activity demonstrating this point.  

Finally, Andrew suggested that the brain, like the rest of the body, benefits from a healthy lifestyle. Eating well and exercising on a regular basis will help to improve a student’s study habits. Ample sleep, he added, helps the brain to process and solidify information you took in during the day. “Homework is everything that helps you learn and sleep helps you learn,” he said. “Therefore, if you want to learn, remember that sleep is homework.”  

Andrew earned a bachelor’s degree in medieval history from Harvard University, a master’s degree in English and American literature from Boston University, and  a master’s in education from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education. He has taught and served as a curriculum leader at Loomis, Concord Academy, and Philips Exeter Academy, and he previously served as dean of faculty at Loomis. The author of three books on learning and the brain, Andrew meets and speaks with students and teachers around the world when he is not in the classroom at Loomis. 

Andrew spoke on the same topic with Loomis Chaffee parents. View the video by clicking  "How to Study Less and Learn More."