The “Just-Study-Harder” Myth and Your EPPP Materials (Study Myths part 1)

“The EPPP is ruining my life!”

“I used to be a nice person, and then the EPPP came along.”

Expressions like this are common among those working on their psychology licensing prep.

How do you approach your EPPP test preparation without it ruining your life?

A Paradigm Shift

First of all, we need a paradigm shift in how we approach the study process. We often come at our studying with a number of deeply engrained myths which prevent us from realizing our full potential. Replacing these myths with correct ways of thinking can literally make the difference between an EPPP preparation regime that is fulfilling vs. one that ruins your life.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to systematically debunk some of these myths, beginning today with what I call the “just-study-harder myth.”

Why Harder Isn’t Always Better

You’ve all encountered the idea that effective studying must be difficult studying, that the harder we study the greater will be our likelihood to succeed. Under the influence of this myth, we tend to drive ourselves unreasonably, becoming crankier and crankier in the process. Believing that harder is better, we push everything—and everyone—aside as we run ourselves into exhaustion.

Of course, there can be no success without hard work. After all, you wouldn’t think of entering into a swimming event at the Olympics without putting in years and years of arduous practice before-hand. But the principle that hard work always pays off is true only up to a certain point. Using categories from formal logic, we might say that hard work is a necessary condition for success but it is not a sufficient condition.

Put more simply, hard work by itself is not enough for success unless a person has learned the right techniques. A drowning person is actually working harder in the water than an athlete who has perfected the butterfly technique – in fact he’s working to the point of exhaustion. But the exhausting work of a drowning man is not going to get him anywhere if he hasn’t learned the skills necessary for effective swimming.

Studying is a lot like swimming. To sit down to a bunch of study materials without first giving attention to the right techniques is rather like jumping in the water and thinking you can swim by wildly waving your arms and legs about. All you will succeed in doing is reaching a state of cognitive overload, the mental equivalent of drowning.

We’ve seen this time and again in our work preparing students to sit their EPPP. As I explained in a recent blog post, researchers found that those studying to pass the EPPP stopped improving after 200 hours of study, while those who spent beyond 400 hours studying were actually less likely to pass the exam. This seems counter-intuitive because we tend to think that more studying must always be better. In reality, those who follow the right techniques (what I call a “methodologically-driven approach”) actually need to study less.

It All Comes Down to Technique

It is remarkable that even though the techniques for effective study have been around for hundreds—and in some cases thousands—of years, the average student focuses only on content and neglects the techniques that might lead to mastery of the content. Universities routinely fail students by offering them little to no training in the techniques of content acquisition, retention and consolidation. As a result, our approach to studying often lapses into rote learning, which uses up unnecessary time and cognitive resources that might be better applied elsewhere.

So what are these techniques I’m talking about? I’m referring to things like:

  • Elaborative Rehearsal
  • Elaborative Encoding
  • Method of Loci (memory palace)
  • Clustering/Chunking
  • Interference Theory
  • Spaced Learning and Repetition
  • Mind-Mapping
  • Primacy/Recency Theory
  • Blocks of Time Principle
  • Neuro-Transmitter Depletion Avoidance
  • Mediator Effectiveness Hypothesis
  • State-Dependent Learning Opportunities
  • Mnemonics
  • Listening While Reading
  • Positive Reinforcement
  • Eliminating Distractions
  • Note-Taking by Hand
  • Finding Your Learning Style (Audio, Visual, Kinesthetic)

Once you become familiar with these different techniques, it will be seen to be a total myth that studying harder is the answer. In many cases, these methods enable people to exert less effort, less cognitive sweat.

In future blog posts we will be sharing about these various methods as well as debunking other myths about studying.

Further Reading

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