University of Virginia psychologist Daniel Willingham Credit: Adam Mohr for Simon & Schuster

Daniel Willingham is a University of Virginia psychologist who frequently engages in pop culture battles armed with academic research. He has made it a personal crusade to persuade teachers that the idea of learning styles is a myth. (Research evidence shows that we all learn through a variety of ways: visually, aurally and kinesthetically.) For years, he has complained that teachers aren’t heeding research about reading instruction, and that many educators are misguided when it comes to teaching critical thinking. Now, Willingham has shifted his focus from teachers to students. In his new book, “Outsmart Your Brain: Why Learning is Hard and How You Can Make it Easy,” which will be released on Jan. 24, he points out all the wrong ways that students do homework, take notes in class or study for tests. (This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

University of Virginia psychologist Daniel Willingham has come up with almost 100 study tips for students

Q: You have almost 100 research-based tips on how to be a better student and almost all of them are just the opposite of what I did when I was in school. Don’t read over your notes to study for a test. Don’t use a highlighter when reading class assignments. Don’t combat procrastination through to-do lists. I’ve been studying wrong my whole life. Why is effective studying so counterintuitive? 

A: Students are doing things that feel really effective at the moment. It’s not like these strategies are completely fruitless. They’ve made it to college with them. But they don’t know the counterfactual; they don’t know what would happen if they engaged in other strategies.

Jill Barshay

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