Jimmy Nzioki

Common Study Habits That Lead to Poor Grades

7 bad study habits

We all study in our academic lives. However, how we study has an almost direct impact on our final grades. Most study habits, unknown to us, are actually detrimental to our grades.

We have all been victims of this. Remember the last time you received your transcript and/or result slip and wondered why on earth those grades did not reflect your efforts? Sounds familiar, right? Perhaps we tend to hide behind excuses like: “The marking was unfair”, “That teacher/ lecturer was biased” or “….” You get the gist. Before you blame others, it is probably time to take a look at the mirror. Yes, you might have been the biggest contributor to your own failure.

There are several bad study habits that we cling to that are costing us dearly. I will highlight seven of them.

#1 Rote repetition

rote learning

This can also be referred to as passive rereading. “Rereading texts and massed practice are by far the preferred study strategies of learners of all stripes, but they are also among the least productive.” states the authors of the book: “Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning.” They continue to define the term massed practice as follows: It means the single-minded, rapid-fire repetition of something you’re trying to burn into memory, the ‘practice-practice-practice’ of conventional wisdom i.e., cramming for exams.

We have all been guilty of this and actually believe that it holds a lot of benefits. However, these authors disagree. They state, “rereading involves a kind of unwitting self-deception, as growing familiarity with the text comes to feel like mastery of the content. The hours immersed in rereading can seem like due diligence, but the amount of study time is no measure of mastery.”

#2 Illusion of Competence

The illusion of competence can masquerade as follows: You go to an unfamiliar question and quickly jump into the provided solution. You follow through the steps while nodding your head and say to yourself, ‘Sure, I see what he did there. I understand now.’ The sad reality in Math and Science related fields, merely glancing and skimming through solved questions does not guarantee that if given the same problem you will be able to do it. The common phrase, “Math is not a spectator sport” rings true in such scenarios. Unless you solve the problem yourself you are not really learning.

Math is not a spectator sport

#3 “Comfort-zone” Practice

This refers to repeatedly solving problems that you are quite familiar with and know how to solve. You are simply encouraging yourself in the comfort zone of your understanding. Barbara Oakley, the author of the acclaimed book, “A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science, put it this way: “If you just sit around solving similar problems during your practice, you’re not actually preparing for a test- it’s like preparing for a big basketball game by just practicing your dribbling.”

#4 “Last-minute” Studying

last minute studying

We wear it like a badge of honor whenever we say, “I’m a ‘last- minuter.’” It is actually a poor study habit. Some enjoy the thrill of having adrenaline pumping in their blood and giving them that extra boost to study for a fast-approaching test. Research shows that this is a recipe for burnout. No wonder you feel so fatigued after such an intense episode of rigorous studying followed by a test the next day. It is like trying to run a marathon the night before a big race.

#5 Welcoming Study Distractors

study distractions

Study distractors come in various forms- study groups that are more interested in past events than the study material at hand or the unending WhatsApp notifications on your phone nearby. Constant distractions have a way of robbing us of our concentration and it actually interferes with our overall learning.

#6 Undue Reliance on Preferred Learning Styles

According to the authors of the book, Make It Stick: “The popular notion that you learn better when you receive instruction in a form consistent with your preferred learning style, for example as an auditory or visual learner, is not supported by the empirical research.”
Yeah, I know. It feels like your learning mechanisms have been a lie after all.

#7 Lack of Enough Sleep

lack of enough sleep

In her book, A Mind for Numbers, Barbara Oakley (an Engineering Professor) makes a case for having enough rest before a big test.  She argues using research on neuroscience as follows:

“Simply being awake creates toxic products in your brain. During sleep, your cells shrink, causing a striking increase in the space between your cells. This is equivalent to turning on a faucet- it allows fluid to wash past and push the toxins out. This nightly housecleaning is part of what keeps your brain healthy. When you get too little sleep, the building of these toxic products is believed to explain why you can’t think very clearly.”

She adds, “Studies have shown that sleep is a vital part of memory and learning. Part of what this special sleep time tidying does is erase trivial aspects of memories and simultaneously strengthen areas of importance. During sleep, your brain also rehearses some of the tougher parts of whatever you are trying to learn- going over and over neural patterns to deepen and strengthen them.”

The next time you get tempted to sleep for quite a few hours because of an upcoming exam, now you know better. After all fore-warned is fore-armed.


Just to recap, avoid the following poor study habits to improve your grades:

  • Passive rereading.
  • Illusions of learning.
  • Practicing what you’re already good at.
  • Postponing your studies till the last minute
  • Entertaining distractions
  • Overemphasis on learning styles
  • Inadequate sleep

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