Optimize Learning With Psychological Science – Study Strategies for All Ages

Posted on September 27, 2017

It’s the end of September, which means students everywhere are cramming for their first midterm exams of the year. Visit any university library and you will see endless amounts of students sitting between towers of textbooks, notes, and highlighters, working their way through another caffeine-fueled all-night study session.

Fortunately, a team of scientists at Carleton College published an article in Perspectives on Psychological Science, in which they boil down a vast amount of cognitive psychology research into a set of useful tips on studying for exams.

According to lead author Adam Putnam the goal was “to write what was basically a how-to guide about how students could do well in school, with the suggestions coming from research in psychology.”

While the article might encourage learning strategies that students have heard many times before (go to class, do the reading, stay organized, etc. – it also points out that many habits students know and love are, surprisingly, only effective in the short term, such as highlighting while reading, or staying up late to cram the night before a test. These tactics might help for the test tomorrow, but probably will not lead to a deeper learning, that holds up until the end of the semester.

In general, the strategies that do work (e.g. taking a practice test) require more effort from the start. While these kind of practices may be more labour-intensive, they tend to be more useful in the long run.

These are a few examples of study strategies that the research team has found to be scientifically proven as effective:

1. Study for a little bit every day: One of the most robust findings in all of cognitive psychology research is the spacing effect, which shows that learning material over several study sessions that are spaced out over time is more effective than cramming everything into one session.

2. Read, Recite and Review: Take 5 minutes to write a summary of a chapter’s big ideas after finishing the reading (aka practicing retrieval), rather than summarizing as you go. Then, check what you got right and what you missed before moving on.

3. Take notes by hand rather than on a laptop: You’ll be less prone to distract yourself (or your classmates) with various apps and website and the act of writing by hand may even help you to remember more.

4. Test yourself on key ideas: Using flash cards, practice quizzes, and friends to test yourself will help you practice retrieving information from memory and is one of the best ways to learn something for the long term.

5. Manage your time and tasks effectively & keep up a healthy work-life balance: exercising and sleeping enough can enhance creativity and ensure that memories are stored in long-term memory.

Although the article was intended for first- or second-year university students, the study strategies can help students of all ages and academic levels. The report is available for free online, and readers are encouraged to share it with the teachers and students they know. You can download the paper at doi:10.1177/1745691616645770 .

Category(s):Academic Issues, Learning Difficulties

Source material from APS