Many of us have a go-to study spot when prepping for exams: the library, a coffee shop, dorm room, or company study room.


Your choice of where to study affects how well you recall information on exam day – let’s understand how to use this to our advantage.

How does your study location affect your chances of passing the exam?


Context-dependent memory


Context-dependent memory is the finding that information is easier to remember when you’re in the same environment where you first learned it.


If you first learned the Black-Scholes formula studying in your local coffee shop, it will be easier to remember when you return to that coffee shop. The smell of coffee, background music, distant conversations – these serve as cues for your memory. When you reinstate these cues (return to that environment), you have an easier time triggering your memory of what you were studying.


You may have experienced these effects firsthand – if you’ve ever lost your keys, you probably retraced your steps trying to find them. As you recreated the initial environment, you gave yourself cues to remember where you left them.


Another common example is recognizing people’s names and faces. Have you ever had a moment where you recognize a familiar face, but you don’t know where you’ve met them? Usually it’s because you’re encountering them outside of your normal context. If you returned to the environment where you first met, it would be much easier to remember their name and face.

What does this mean for my study routine?


If we have the best memory in the same environment where we learned the material, should we replicate the exam room environment for our daily studying?


In theory, that could work. However, I doubt that many people can recreate a Prometrics testing center environment for their daily studying. Even if you could, our goal is to access to this information in any conditions (e.g. at work, in an interview), not just during the exam.


There’s a more practical route: vary your study environment.


By changing your study environment, you create more cues to remember the information; your knowledge becomes increasingly independent of your surroundings.


You can take advantage of this with simple adjustments such as: changing rooms in your house, varying the time of day that you study, or listening to different music.


With the end goal to use this knowledge under any conditions, it makes sense to practice recalling the information under different environments.


Changing environments works well with the short, spaced study sessions and mobile study materials that we describe in Actuarial Exam Tactics. While prepping for my last exam, I remember studying in coffee shops, libraries, airplanes, and waiting to get my car oil changed.


If you want to avoid distractions in these environments, noise-cancelling headphones work wonders. This is the most comprehensive review we’ve found for choosing the right noise-cancelling headphones.


While your study environment may not make or break your exam success, it’s an easy way to give yourself an edge without any additional study time.


Study Smart, Pass Fast, Live Life

Mike & Roy

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