Efficiency is doing things right while effectiveness is doing the right things. If you want to study less, achieve better results and have more time to socialize – then you need to use the most effective study techniques. The techniques listed here are sourced from latest ground breaking study “Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques” and published in “Psychological Science in the Public Interest,” a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. It evaluated the 10 most commonly used learning techniques. You can download the full study here:
The Least Effective Study Techniques
Are you highlighting notes or summarizing? Stop right now. These techniques are rated as quite ineffective. While these are the most tempting techniques to use because they seem ‘useful’ and are easy to implement, they are ultimately wasting a lot of your time.
- Highlighting and underlining textbooks and other materials
- Keyword mnemonics — the use of keywords and mnemonics to help remind students of course material
- Imagery use for text learning — creating mental images to remind students of material
Reasons for their ineffectiveness:
Summarization and imagery use for text learning have been shown to help some students on some criterion tasks, yet the conditions under which these techniques produce benefits are limited, and much research is still needed to fully explore their overall effectiveness.
The keyword mnemonic is difficult to implement in some contexts, and it appears to benefit students for a limited number of materials and for short retention intervals.
Most students report rereading and highlighting, yet these techniques do not consistently boost students’ performance, so other techniques should be used in their place (e.g., practice testing instead of rereading).
Moderately Effective Study Techniques
These techniques are more effective but still not the best:
- Elaborative interrogation — uses “why” questions to get students to make connections between new and old material.
- Self-explanation — prompting students to provide their own explanations for problems while learning material
- Interleaved practice — mixing different kinds of problems or material in one study session
Highly Effective Study Techniques
This is the gold. Use these as your primary study techniques and you will see a marked improvement in results as well as retention time.
- Practice testing/past papers — any form that allows students to test themselves, including using actual or virtual flashcards, doing problems or questions at the end of textbook chapters, or taking practice tests.
- Distributed practice — studying material over a number of relatively short sessions. I.e. Not cramming!
Why do they work?
Practice testing or past papers are a tried and tested winner. It’s the closest thing to a real exam or test. There are a few points that should be noted however. Firstly, ensure that the practice tests or papers you are doing is relevant and are based on the same content that you will be examined on. Furthermore, do not blindly memorize past papers or practice tests – this will do more harm than good. Instead, the purpose of doing practice tests is to a) Provide feedback on how well you understand concepts i.e. if you can answer the questions correctly, then you are on the right track and; b) Give you a benchmark of what type of standard of questioning to expect. Want to know the most important part of practice testing or doing past papers? Get your answers checked! The key to rapid learning it to obtain feedback and then improving based on the feedback. If you don’t know whether your answers are right or wrong then you will never improve. Practice testing is extremely powerful when it reveals mistakes you are making or holes in your understanding – and this is only every possible by regular feedback (getting your work checked by a teacher/lecturer or tutor).
Distributed practice is the opposite of cramming. Students tend to leave the majority of the work to be done just prior to the test or exam and believe that this popular cramming strategy is effective. Although cramming is better than not studying at all in the short term, given the same amount of time for study, would students be better off spreading out their study of content? The science points to a resounding “yes.” The term distributed-practice effect refers to the finding that distributing learning over time (either within a single study session or across sessions) typically benefits long-term retention more than does massing learning opportunities back-to-back or in relatively close succession (cramming).