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.)

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Toward a Science of Student Performance

How can we perform better as students? Here is a short list of what recent scientific research seems to be telling us. (Major credit to Jennifer Waller for collecting almost all these sources.)

This is list is still under construction. Please contact me with any comments or corrections.

Instead of using the laptop, take written notes. 1

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.) 1 2 3

Instead of reading passively, generate your own conceptual questions as you read. 1

Instead of repeatedly re-reading your highlighted/marked passages, cover them up and try to retrieve contents by memory. Put retrieval practice to use! 1 2 3 4

Instead of cramming the night before, break study/reading up into periods distributed over the week, ideally shortly before sleeping.

Attend class regularly. 1

Sleep a lot. Take afternoon naps. Get REM. Study shortly before you will be sleeping. 1 2

No, you apparently shouldn’t stick with your original answer on a test when you feel uncertain either way. It’s a myth. 1 2

Philosophies of Scientists

What is the physical world ultimately made of? Unless consciousness = information = mathematics = nothing, they can’t all be right.


“I believe that consciousness and its contents are all that exists. Spacetime, matter and fields never were the fundamental denizens of the universe but have always been, from their beginning, among the humbler contents of consciousness, dependent on it for their very being.”–Donald Hoffman, Cognitive Scientist

“It is difficult for the matter-of-fact physicist to accept the view that the substratum of everything is of mental character. But no one can deny that mind is the first and most direct thing in our experience, and all else is remote inference.”–Sir Arthur Eddington, Astrophysicist


“…quantum physics teaches us to abandon the distinction between information and reality. … For me the strongest argument for a reality independent of us is the randomness of the individual quantum event, like the decay of a radioactive atom. There is no hidden reason why a given atom decays at the very instant it does so. So if reality exists and if we will never be able to make an operational distinction between reality and information, the hypothesis suggests itself that reality and information are the same. We need a new concept which encompasses both. In a sense, reality and information are the two sides of the same coin.”–Anton Zeilinger, Quantum Physicist


“Our external physical reality is a mathematical structure.” People are “self-aware substructures” who “subjectively perceive themselves as existing in a physically ‘real’ world””–Max Tegmark

Nothing (which is actually something).

“What drove me to write this book was this discovery that the nature of “nothing” had changed, that we’ve discovered that “nothing” is almost everything and that it has properties.”–Lawrence Krauss, Theoretical Physicist



The existence of physical laws made the universe create itself out of nothing.


“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”–Stephen Hawking, Theoretical Physicist, and Leonard Mlodinow, Physicist