At university, we are taught all sorts of subjects. From cell biology to creative writing, we are expected to master it all. Yet, we are not taught how to study. That, we have to figure out on our own. Some students cram the entire course into their heads the night before the midterm, some highlight and reread their notes weeks before the exam, and some students prefer to only do practice problems… the different styles are endless.
None of study styles are bad, but turns out, some are more productive than others.
Decades of research into learning and memorization has taught us that the following study methods promote much better long-term retention than simply rereading, rewriting and highlighting notes.
Retrieval practice: a fancy term for “quiz yourself!”
Once you’ve learned a piece of information, every time you recall that memory, you strengthen it. Instead of writing notes for the second time, use that time to write your own questions and test yourself. Not only would you strengthen what you already know, you would also easily identify what areas you’re unsure of.
Elaborative rehearsal: link new information to things you already know
Instead of compartmentalizing new information into separate neat little boxes in your brain, try to connect that information to the rich web of knowledge that you already possess. As you’re learning the concept, try to deliberately create logical and intuitive associations with existing knowledge. Simple ways to do this are to use your own words to rephrase definitions, and relating new information to things you’re already familiar with from previous courses.
Dual coding: create both a visual and a verbal memory for the same information.
Once the information is associated with two senses instead of one, retrieval becomes much easier. Try to translate a written passage from the textbook into a drawing or flow chart. Instead of studying in silence, try explaining the concepts out loud, even if it’s just to yourself.
Distributed effort: spread it out, don’t cram
It may be difficult to not cram a subject the night before the test when students have extracurricular, part-time jobs and a social life to attend to, but distributing your studying really works! Say you’re going to spend 10 hours studying a particular topic, from 10pm to 8am, rather than drinking an insane amount of caffeine and powering through one night of hell, it is far more effective to spend that time as five 2-hour sessions over the course of a few days.
Sleep effect: review information you’re trying to memorize right before you go to sleep.
When you are sleeping, your brain recuperates and reorganizes information gathered during the day. Deep sleep is very important in memory consolidation. This is why it’s a good idea to spend a few minutes reviewing a chart or going through some flashcards right before bed. For best effects, try to test yourself shortly after you wake up.
These are the study tips that will help you achieve your learning goals according to science. Good luck! (Oh wait, you won’t need any once you follow these tips!) *wink*
Written by: Mai H. and J.S.