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Stephen Eastwood
December 2016.
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Is there an ideal time of day for me to study?
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No. There’s a common belief, based on research by psychologists, that you learn best two to four hours after waking up. I don’t think that’s true, and it’s different for everyone anyway. For instance, when I was at school, and even now, studying in the evenings and late at night has worked better for me.

Even if there’s evidence that two to four hours after waking up is the best time to learn, that doesn’t mean it’s the only time you can learn, or that you can’t overcome it through effort, or by being passionate about education. Research from University Hospital Zurich says that sleeplessness damages the brain, while other researchers say we have to let teenagers sleep late. But they’re going to have to get used to getting up earlier at some point. Life’s like that.

"Children learn all over the world in different situations – including in war zones – at all different times of the day, but do really well."

There are too many people trying to find ways to address problems that aren’t really there – such as the ‘best time to study’. Most educators feel that young people have so many barriers to learning, whether it’s their home backgrounds or their psychological make-up. They’ll ask “why aren’t they doing better?”, as if young people aren’t up for learning. It’s a very negative viewpoint.

The idea that children have different learning styles or can only learn at certain times of the day is a sign that many people have given up on teaching. It’s also a way of blaming children for not learning as well as people think they should. Behind it is what I’ve called a ‘diminished concept of children and young people’ belief that they are unable to cope with education or life in general.

Children learn all over the world in different situations – including in war zones – at all different times of the day, but do really well – and that’s because they’re being taught by people who believe in them, and believe in education.

I don’t believe there’s an ideal time of day to learn, but I do have a tip about studying. A teacher in a school I visited once told me that children in her school couldn’t retain anything. I knew immediately what the problem was – it wasn’t the children; it was the teaching. I once worked with an American teaching scheme for children with learning difficulties which had built-in repetitions – up to 170 in all, but, for someone of average learning ability you needed 24 repetitions in order to learn and retain information. The more often you say things, and the more clearly you say them, the more people will learn, so repetition is really important. Teachers and parents should remember that when they say “how often have I told you?”. If it’s not between 24 and 170 times, then it’s not enough.