Category Archives: Learning Strategies

I’ve Been Studying All Wrong! – Video

If you’ve read my previous posts, you’ll know I’m a big fan of applying cognitive psychology in my teaching. I’m a strong proponent of teaching students to use effective learning strategies, especially retrieval practice and distributed practice. I give a talk on the topic, often as a guest lecture. About a year ago, I recorded a video version of this talk, aimed at students. Please enjoy and share as you see fit.

First Thoughts on Two-Stage Exams

I gave my first two-stage exam a few weeks ago. It wasn’t an approach I had considered until very recently. I had previously heard of exams with a group portion, but at that time the benefits weren’t clear to me, and frankly, it sounded odd so I didn’t give it much thought. A few months ago, I was reintroduced to the idea by Judy Chan at a UBC Course Design Intensive workshop. After hearing the process described in detail, the value was immediately clear. This concept aligns with my interest in facilitating effective learning strategies for students, in this case, retrieval practice.

The exam I just gave was a radical departure from anything I’ve done before. During the group portion, I could see through the students’ animated discussions that they were more engaged with the material than ever before. Two-stage exams will be my main approach from this point forward.

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I’ve Been Studying All Wrong: Highlighting and Rereading

As an undergraduate, my study regimen mostly consisted of:

  • Reading and highlighting assigned material (usually)
  • Doing assigned homework / problem sets
  • Taking notes during class
  • A week or so prior to exam…
    • Rereading the portions of the text that I highlighted
    • Reading chapter summaries
    • Rereading my notes

These are typical learning strategies, and they seemed adequate at the time. (However, grad student Patrick really wished undergrad Patrick had retained some more calculus and linear algebra.) Now, in my perpetual quest to become a better teacher, I’ve been dabbling in the cognitive sciences literature. The research around effective learning strategies (AKA studying techniques) has been especially interesting. I now realize I could have been studying much more effectively and efficiently. This literature has been wonderfully summarized by Dunlosky et al. (2013) in a comprehensive review of 10 common learning techniques used by students. Here is a small part of what they found:

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How I Should Have Studied. Part 2: Distributed (Spaced) Practice

Read I’ve Been Studying All Wrong: Highlighting and Rereading and How I Should Have Studied. Part 1: Retrieval Practice if you haven’t already.

Distributed Practice

Ask a group of students which study strategy is more effective:

  1. Studying for 2 hours per week over a 12 week semester
  2. Studying for 24 hours over the 2 days prior to an exam (cramming)

Most students would select option 1, and they would be correct. (Although ask them which they do in practice, and they will probably admit option 2.)

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