Are Study Breaks Beneficial?

As college students, many of us tend tend to believe that cramming and pulling all nighters are beneficial to our grades.  However, despite popular belief, taking study breaks are extremely beneficial for both the grades as well as one’s health. Scientists are finding more and more about the nature of our brain’s attention spans and how the brain demonstrates that even brief distractions or time away from the material can dramatically improve an individuals ability to focus on tasks for prolonged periods of time.

For example, in 2011, psychology professor Alejandro Lleras of the University of Illinois conducted a randomized control study in which eighty four subjects were divided into four groups that all performed the same repetitive, computerized task for 50 minutes.  All four groups were given a set of numbers prior to the start of the 50 minute study and were told to state if they saw these numbers at any point during the trials.  Three of these four groups were not given breaks and as time went on, their ability to identify the numbers decreased as the one controlled group who were given three-five minute breaks managed to score significantly higher.

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Overworking our brains is never the way to go.

Not taking breaks while putting our brains through long periods of strain would be the equivalent of putting our bodies muscles through an intense workout without giving them a time to rest.  Eventually, our bodies would give out in the form of physical injury or a potential lose of consciousness.  Same goes with our brains.  According to Amy Arnsten, professor of neurobiology at Yale University, long periods of mental strain and stress during times such as cramming for an exam to prolonged periods of work can cause our brains to “short-circuit” in the sense that we stop taking in information and more times than not, will forget or disregard what it is we have previously studied or work on.  This has obvious repercussions on say an exam in which hours upon hours of studying could go to waste if the brain is to be overworked.

Working our brains is perfectly okay to do, but overworking them can take a toll on it’s health.  Studying is clearly done best with taking some sort form of a break.  MIT recommends that working for 50 minutes with a ten minute break is the most beneficial and efficient way for one to study.  Rethinking your study habits can drastically improve both your grades and overall mental health.

This video provides more insight as to how beneficial taking study breaks truly are.

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6 thoughts on “Are Study Breaks Beneficial?

  1. Giana Shan Yu Han

    This topic was very easy to connect to. I have always taken study breaks, telling myself that if I finished the chapter I could answer the text or grab something to eat. It’s nice to know that these study breaks are actually helping me rather than acting as a sign that I have too short of an attention span or just really strange study habits. The study you quoted seems to be designed well, and the mechanism seems plausible. Now I wonder what the optimum study time between breaks is and what is the best length for a break. Also, is there an activity that people should do during the break to retain the maximum amount of information? This topic that you covered and all the questions that go along with it are extremely relatable, and they would be so helpful to know!

  2. Morgan Alexandria Parker

    This is a very relatable post to all of us at Penn State. With a lot of exams hitting at once, it is easy to find yourself studying for hours on end without a break. I do think it is more beneficial to take breaks. I always find myself feeling refreshed and more focused after taking a quick break from studying and doing something else. I do not understand why he split up the groups the way he did and I feel like that could lead to issue in the study. It would have made more sense for him to split them evenly in my opinion, but I still agree that breaks are necessary.

  3. Buanafina Maia

    I find this topic very interesting and have found myself thinking about it before. When I first started at Penn State, I would leave my studying to the very last minute, cramming things in and not taking breaks. I soon found out that this was not a very good strategy as I was not doing as well on my exams as I expected to. I decided to change my habits before exams and found that it was indeed beneficial to space things out and take more breaks from studying. This is why I find this blog and the study interesting. I am curious, however, as to why the study was not divided equally. With only having one of the four groups taking breaks, could this not skew the data in one direction? I feel that even if the randomization of the group members were done well, they would still need to have an equal or close to equal amount of groups. Would I be correct in assuming this?

  4. Sarah Rose Peterson

    I always try to plan out my weekly schedule and give myself enough time to study. Pulling all nighters and cramming for tests just make me more tired the following day. I really like your blog topic because I think it is relevant to so many of us students. I am going to follow the MIT recommendation for studying for 50 minutes and taking a 10 minute break. I wonder if there is a recommendation as to what to do during a break. Take a nap? Go on your phone? Watch TV?

  5. czc5448

    I love this post because of how relevant it is. I completely agree with what you said in that breaks are beneficial for students to get better grades. Personally I have never been someone to cram for tests and have always found that hard to do. I love how you compared not taking study breaks to an intense workout. That makes people realize exactly how much of a toll not taking breaks take on our minds. I also liked the controlled experiment you talked about and thought that the results are great evidence that taking study breaks are beneficial. Studying for 50 minutes and then taking 10 minute breaks is a great tip and I am going to try that now when I study for quizzes or exams.

  6. Yu Zhang

    I agree with you that occasional breaks during long study hours can help us release stress and be more focused on the work later, since I guess we all have such experiences when studying. I have some questions about the study conducted by psychology professor Alejandro Lleras of the University of Illinois: why did he split the subjects into four groups and only one of them is control group? why didn’t he just split them to two groups– one of them is given breaks while the other isn’t? In his case of experiment, people in control group only take one fourth of total participants and with fewer subjects, the influence of people’s characteristics increases. (third variables like their ability of memory)

    As to the ways of taking breaks during study, I found some information may be helpful to you.

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