The (Emerging, Sometimes Tenuous) Science of Enhancing Student Performance

How can we perform better as students? Here is a short compilation of what recent scientific research seems to be telling us. I have excluded popular advice and lore not backed by any data.

This is list is still under construction. Please contact me with any additions, comments, or corrections. (Major credit to Jen Waller who gathered and vetted many of these sources.)

Attendance & Engagement

Showing Up: Researchers find that attendance is directly correlated with grades and overall GPA.

Taking Notes

Some research suggests that using laptops to take notes results in shallow processing and impairs learning.

Studying & Memory

Short version: Retrieve and interleave.

A growing body of research suggests that you can greatly improve your memory not simply by re-reading passages, but by retrieving your memories of those passages on cue. Study not by rereading important sections, but by covering them up and trying to recall their contents.

Popular articles are saying that students should be tested more and that frequent testing boosts learning. So, even if you’re not being actively tested, you are better off testing yourself than simply re-reading. Put the method of retrieval practice to use! It also appears to enhance transfer of learning.

Instead of studying each subject in one block of time, interleave your study, going back and forth between subjects. (In other words, do some biology, then some history, then back to some more biology, then back to some more history.) Sources: 1 2 3 4

Health & Sleep

Sleep helps. It appears that studying shortly before a full-night’s sleep can significantly help with memory. Napping and REM sleep helps, too. More on that.


Generate and answer your own conceptual questions as you read.

Changing your Answer when Uncertain


Attention Restoration Theory

General Collections/Reviews