Everyone knows that studying is an important part of academic success. Not all study methods yield equal benefits, though. So, what study techniques should IOAPA students employ to get the most bang for their academic buck? This article from Scientific American Mind reviewed the literature, and we’ll sum it up here.
The Top Two
- Self-testing: Practice tests helped improve learning across subjects, and retention lasts longer than other study methods. It works even if the format of the practice test differs from the real one.
- Distributed practice: In other words, don’t cram! Research suggests that spreading your study sessions out over time is more beneficial. Tell your IOAPA students — don’t put off your studying for finals or the AP Exam until days or weeks before. Avoid the tendency to procrastinate!
What else works?
Three other techniques were found to be useful, but less robust: elaborative interrogation, self-explanation, and interleaved practice. These methods may be less varied in their applications and/or less practical to employ, but still yield benefits for students.
What doesn’t work?
Five techniques under analysis were found to be of low overall utility: summarization, highlighting, keyword mnemonics, imagery use, and rereading. Research demonstrated that these methods were only effective for individuals with certain prerequisite skills, for certain content areas or task demands, or that they were generally ineffective. For example, summarizing can be useful for older students (undergraduates, mostly) or students who have been trained how to effectively summarize, but does not yield positive results for students who lack those skills. Highlighting/underlining, on the other hand, yielded few benefits beyond those of simply reading.
The findings presented in this summary and in the article linked above come from the following study: Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., and Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4-58.
Another discussion of this article was shared by one of the authors here.