Five tips from cognitive psychologists on the best ways to study

11th May 2016 at 10:01
The Learning Scientists are a group of US education academics who aim to increase evidence-based practice in schools. This is the first in a series of biweekly blogs for TES

It is finals season, so to kick off our new blog series for TES we thought we would provide some helpful tips for successful studying, reviewing, and – gasp – cramming. Below are five tips for teachers to pass on to students.

  • Space out your studying
    Study a little bit every day. You will remember more than if you do a marathon study session. Even if you wait until the night before, you should still space out your study: take a break to get a snack or have a nap.
  • Mix up your studying
    If you have three finals in, say, English, math, and psychology, it’s best if you study English for 30 minutes, then Math for 30 minutes, then Psychology for 30 minutes and then cycle through again, rather than studying each one for a long time before switching.
  • Stop rereading and highlighting
    While reviewing your notes might be useful if you haven't looked at the material in a while, the two strategies below will provide far greater benefits than simply going over your notes or book over and over again. For more information, see our guide on how to study a textbook.
  • Put the material in your own words and connect it to what you know
See if you can translate your notes or book into words that you understand, and then try to think of examples from your own life or from other classes that fit this new concept. For example, if you need to remember that episodic memories are memories with time and space, you could think of examples from your own life such as a recent birthday party. 
  • Practice retrieving the information
    You don't want to get to the test and find out then that you can't actually pull any of that studied material out of your memory. If you practice retrieving the information by asking yourself quiz questions, quizzing with a friend, or using flashcards, you will be able to review those areas that you have trouble recalling.

So, to summarize, for the best kind of study... stop re-reading and instead spread out your study activities (or at least mix up the materials that you need to study); explain confusing topics to yourself to make sure you understand them; and quiz yourself or ask a friend to quiz you.

Finally, if you're going to cram, you can still have a cramming session with frequent breaks, lots of quizzing, and thinking of examples of material instead of just re-reading.

We hope that this helps. Happy studying, and please get in touch to let us know if any of these tips helped.

This blog post originally appeared on The Learning Scientists Blog as a part of a weekly resource digest. Follow on Twitter @AceThatTest.

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