Myths, superstitions about studying found in cultures worldwide


Final exams inspire a certain type of craziness in college students. We start doing bizarre things we would never do otherwise, such as not washing our clothes or our bodies, screaming out windows and sleeping on park benches. We try to recollect any good studying advice we’ve ever heard in hope of remembering just the thing that will nab us a good grade.

One superstition says you should take what you’re studying and shove it under your pillow. The idea is if you’re trying to learn certain information, your brain will absorb it in your sleep. Similarly, some people believe washing your hair the night before your exam is bad luck and will wash away the knowledge you just learned.

Meanwhile, according to an article about Russian culture on, in Russia, students perform a ritual the night before the exam to catch a “freebie,” or a good grade on an exam without making any effort. Freebies must be caught, so at exactly midnight students hang out of a window, open their books and shake them in the air, saying, “Come here, freebie, big or small!” 

Once the freebie is “caught,” the book should be closed and not opened until the next day at exam time. Other Russian students do away with flapping their books in the air and instead throw offerings of bread crumbs into the streets.

However, perhaps the best way to aid students in their quest for good grades is not a list of arbitrary practices that may or may not give you good luck, but instead old-fashioned hard work. You can make that a lot easier on yourself by not buying into many of the studying myths out there and instead choosing to study smart.

For example, ever heard that chewing mint gum while studying and while taking the test will help you do better on the test? The reason behind the superstition is that while we’re studying, our brain associates the information we’re learning with what is around us. If you study while chewing mint gum, the brain will remember that information more readily the next time you chew mint gum. Just make sure you use one flavor of gum per subject.

For a similar reason, people often give advice to study in the same place each day with the idea that it will improve retention, and it will — if you’re studying in your exam hall. If not, following the logic, you might decrease your ability to remember the information in places other than your favorite study spot.

A New York Times article by Benedict Carey published on Sept. 6, 2010, cites a 1978 experiment that found that students who studied the same material in two different locations instead of twice in the same location did far better on a test over the material. These findings were confirmed by later studies.

Common practice dictates you should “chunk” your material into smaller and separate categories and focus on studying them. However, while chunking does work, it is recommended to vary up which chunks you’re studying in one sitting. 

The Times article cited earlier, mentions a study published by Applied Cognitive Psychology, which found that students who interwove two different types of math problems together when they were learning about them did better on an exam the next day than students who first studied one type of problem and then separately studied the next.

Good grades are elusive, and sometimes it feels like there is a large element of chance and luck in the works that decides whether you will pass or fail. However, the only way to ensure a good grade is by hard work and smart studying. Sit up, buckle down and study smart these next few days to get your good grades. And stop falling asleep on the benches.

Cara Hillstock is a sophomore in English. Please send comments to