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  • Writer's pictureFrank Doogan

What is the balance between study and breaks?

Updated: Oct 25, 2023

So , you are a student and you need to study. Your ambition in your study is to learn as much as you can to improve in a particular skill and likely you will also want to do well in an exam. If you like, you can watch the video, or read the text below.

We know that study is no longer just what happens at school or at university - it will happen through your whole life as new jobs, subjects, new skills, new areas of work open up continuously. The big question you might have is the balance between study and breaks, or how you make your study or learning efficient and not a great drain on your physical and emotional health.

While some students think that studying is a marathon and if you take a break it will take longer and you won't win, the research evidence says that this is not true.

Whether we look at the science of learning in mice Hungry mice show why you should take study breaks. [1] Or, doing concentrated tasks on railway systems The Impact of Breaks on Sustained Attention in a Simulated, Semi-Automated Train Control Task.[2] Or, breaks and test results Cognitive fatigue influences students’ performance on standardized tests. [3] the evidence is that taking breaks in your study boosts your efficiency, boosts your memory and boosts your learning.

There are many stories around study and breaks, but to the best of my knowledge there has been no conclusive determination of how long an individual should study before they take a break. We are all different and depending on the study, the tasks, the complexity of the subject, and you as a person, we will have different needs to achieve our greatest efficiency while looking after our emotional and physical health.

In some studies, a break after 20 or 25 minutes has demonstrated advantages in learning outcomes, and in others anywhere from 45 to 60 minutes has proved beneficial. However, there are other factors to consider like how you feel – is your concentration dropping? And, can you push yourself a bit more? Attention Span is highly trainable so you may want to try a little more before you have a break. [4]

In education as elsewhere, we need to be very aware that popular ideas and popular solutions may not have sufficient scientific basis for us to accept them as fact. How long you should study intensely before you have a break is open to question.

What is not open to question is that if you study and take regular breaks - and breaks of a particular quality involving such things as exercise, dance, yoga, meditation, going for a walk, or listening to music, you will achieve benefits in the amount you retain in your learning and in your physical and mental health.

The younger you are, the more frequently you should take breaks. A break every 20 to 25 minutes may be good if you're young or a student in school, and if you're adult then a break after 45 to 60 minutes after study may suit you.

The function of a break is to let your brain and your body recover from a period of physical inactivity and mental work, and so the opposite of this (as in physical activity and complete relaxation) will give your mind the opportunity to let the new learning settle and will refresh you for your next period of learning.

So, whether you are a student or are in the workplace, regular work or study breaks in which you do something completely different from your work is an essential part of your efficiency in your work and learning.

It's good to note that if you are, for example, reading a relaxing novel, or engaged in something that is not mentally very demanding, then you are unlikely to need the same kind or length of break.

The length of breaks in a study or work period is generally regarded as being somewhere between 5 and 15 minutes, and while that may sound a lot, what you are looking for is not the amount of time in your study but how much you learn. The quality of the break you have influences what you learn.

Remember that in study or work it is not the number of hours you put in, but the quality of what you learn in those hours. Experiment and adjust to improve your efficiency and health.

If you want further advice or guidance while you study contact us at MyIT My Intelligent Tutor - text or call +852 92791393

Video sources here :)

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