Learning is a lifelong journey that people experience, and it can be full of self exploration and growth. However, in today’s information age full of distractions and content, it is important to hone in effective strategies to better understand and remember concepts. Some students may have experienced the struggle of trying to cram late into the night before an exam, while others might have strict study regimens, from studying at a quiet location to employing a specific succession of highlighting, annotating, and rereading. Regardless of what stage of life you are in, we are constantly performing a complex juggling routine with time when it comes to hours spent studying.
5 Effective Study Strategies
Research suggests that some common study techniques such as highlighting and rereading are not very useful (Dunlosky et al. 2013), so whether you are currently a student or simply interested in learning more efficiently in an area of interest, here are few more effective study techniques to try!
1. Spaced repetition
Spaced repetition is a method that involves increased intervals of time before reviewing information. Essentially, you are aiming to review information just as you are about to forget it, so your brain works harder to recall the information. Over time, spaced repetition typically results in longer retention of content (Troyer 2014). Popular websites and applications that use spaced repetition are Quizlet and Anki Flashcards.
2. Distributed practice
Distributed practice is the opposite of cramming. Instead of trying to memorize all of the tested content the night before an exam, spread out your studying in smaller chunks throughout the week. Distributed practice of typically leads to long-term retention of information (Dunlosky et al. 2013).
3. Interleaved studying
Interleaving is a strategy where you mix different topics while studying. For example, when studying three different concepts under circular geometry, an interleaved worksheet would mix practice questions from all three concepts instead of sectioning them. This is a contrast to blocked studying, where you focus on studying one topic before moving onto the next. While interleaving may seem counterintuitive, it has been found to be effective in problem-solving based classes such as math, possibly because it allows you to think about which strategies to best use when tackling a problem. In a study conducted on 7th graders, students who practiced with interleaved slope and graph math worksheets for a month scored a 76% better than students who practiced with blocked worksheets for a month (Pan 2015).
4. Practice tests
Another effective strategy to see whether or not you have retained the studied information is to take practice tests. Practice tests can serve as a status-check for your current understanding of a topic. Furthermore, it enhances both memory and comprehension of a subject for students across different age ranges and abilities. Practice testing does not have to come from test prep books, as you can incorporate this strategy into your study routine through methods such as using flashcards or completing problems at the end of textbook chapters (Dunlosky et al. 2013).
5. Effective breaks
Make sure to give your brain a break in between intense studying blocks! Research suggests that taking breaks improves your attention (Nauert 2018). After a long focused study session, you may notice that you start to become less focused on your tasks, so take the time to walk around or look out the window. However, make sure your breaks do not become extended sessions of procrastination! One solution to combat prolonged breaks would be to set a 5-10 minute timer before returning to studying.
It’s important to remember that learning is a process for comprehensive understanding in the long term, and not just short term memorization. If you haven’t found an efficient system that works for you yet, these five techniques are a good place to start!
Dunlosky, J. Rawson, K.A., Marsh, E.J., Nathan, M.J. & Willingham, D.T. (2013). Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14, 4-58.
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Taking Breaks Found to Improve Attention. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 11, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2011/02/09/taking-breaks-found-to-improve-attention/23329.html
Pan, S. C. (2015). The Interleaving Effect: Mixing It Up Boost Learning. Scientific American. . Retrieved on March 11, 2020, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-interleaving-effect-mixing-it-up-boosts-learning/.
Troyer, A. K. (2014). Spaced Repetition. Psychology Today. Retrieved on March 11, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/living-mild-cognitive-impairment/201403/spaced-repetition.
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