When I was a freshman in university, I was told by all my seniors that in order to succeed academically at the university I would have to put in much more effort in studying than I would have in high school. Therefore, following the advice of those I considered to being doing well at the academically rigorous environment, I spent hours on end sitting in the library reading and highlighting my notes. However, after my first midterms I found out that my effort had not brought me the grades I hoped to get.
Thankfully, after taking an introductory course in psychology I found out that my low grades were primarily due to my bad studying habits. I was studying passively, and reading pages in textbooks thinking that by reading them my brain will absorb their information. After learning how to study actively I improved my grades. Here are some studying tips.
Why re-reading does not count as studying
Re-reading and highlighting information is a passive way of learning and does not help us learn efficiently. When we re-read information we usually read without stopping to critically reflect on what we’ve read. We do not stop to think what the information might mean to us in the real world context and how it might be connected to what we already know. Re-reading information can make us familiar with the content and the fluency can give us the illusion of mastery of the information. Then when we are tested on the information, it is difficult for us to recall what we have learned because we had just read the text passively.
The best way to remember information for a test
One way to study actively is by using the “Testing effect.” The testing effect is the scientific finding that long term memory is increased when the information to be remembered is retrieved from our memories. Testing yourself on what you’ve learned has dual benefits of helping you retain more information in your long term memory and it also helps you spot gaps in your knowledge. By spotting gaps in your knowledge you can review and focus your attention on the subject material that you have difficulty with. This helps you study efficiently as you spend more time learning things you don’t know and less time on things you already know.
The best way to study a topic like biology is by first reading the information on a text book page, then trying to retrieve the memory by asking yourself questions about what you’ve read. For example if you’ve just read a chapter on plants, you might want to ask yourself “What is photosynthesis?”, or “Why are plants green?” By asking yourself questions and answering those questions you will retain more knowledge in your memory. This could also be as simple as summarizing what you’ve read in the past pages.
Why it is important to stop and think while studying
Using elaboration is another active learning strategy that can increase your studying efficiency. The elaboration strategy is connecting things you are trying to learn to things you already know. This means finding examples, and making analogies to your previous knowledge. For example, if you have to remember what a schema is for your psychology course, then you can think of how your mental representation of your dog is a schema. Your schema of your dog consists of a four legged furry animal, and all of the other memories you have of it. By elaborating on what we are learning we can remember more knowledge.
Why studying one thing at a time does not work
In a study involving baseball, a team of baseball players was divided into two group. One group of players faced 45 pitches evenly divided into sets of 15 fastballs, 15 curveballs, and 15 changeups. So they got 15 fastballs first then 15 curveballs, and then 15 changeups. The other group of players also faced 45 pitches with equal number of fastballs, curveballs, and changeups. However the second group received the three types of pitches randomly through the 45 pitches. After 6 weeks of practice the group that received the three types of pitches randomly had improved much more than the group that received the pitches in bulk. This research is just one example of how interleaved research is better than mass blocked practice.
Interleaved studying is another studying technique that has proven to get great results. Interleaving studying is when we change what we are studying if we fall into repetitive practice. This is different from when we single mindedly focus on trying to solve a certain problem type or topic. Bulk studying a topic at a time gives the illusion of mastery and feels easier than interleaved studying. However, interleaved studying is better than bulk studying. This means to study efficiently you must change up the topics you are studying frequently so that learning always challenges and stimulates your mind.
You can use these studying strategies to study more efficiently. Read the book Make it Stick by Peter Brown to learn more on how to study effectively.
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