Hard work produces results. This goes for studying as it goes for anything in life. But could students’ hard work be going to waste if they aren’t studying and working in an effective way?
Researchers have conducted experiments in this area and, in the January 2013 issue of ‘Psychological Science in the Public Interest’, a thorough review of 10 common studying techniques produced the following ranking:
- Working through past exam papers
- Distributing your learning over longer periods of time (as opposed to cramming)
- Interleaved practice: switching between subjects regularly
- Elaborative interrogation: Generating an explanation for why an explicitly stated fact or concept is true
- Self-explanation: Explaining how new information is related to known information, or explaining steps taken during problem solving
- Mnemonics, such as ‘Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain’ to memorize the order of rainbow colors
- Rereading notes
- Using imagery to aid learning
The study confirms what many already know about the perils of cramming, but it also articulates further benefits from mock examinations. The study found that practicing exams results in benefits that reach far beyond performance on the exams themselves and was, perhaps surprisingly, the best method for increasing overall comprehension.
The study also disconfirms some long-held traditions: while it’s common for teachers to encourage their students to ”revisit school material before they forget it”, the research shows that the strongest form of memorization is to let yourself forget the material first, because the act of re-learning the material results in stronger connections. This is totally counter-intuitive but provides further reason why distributed practice is so effective.
While the study’s results may be counter-intuitive, what we hope is intuitive for our community and our students is constantly critiquing not only the subjects we are learning, but also the process we are using to learn these subjects. By maintaining a healthy level of skepticism for ‘common sense’ or ‘experience’, we open ourselves to new frontiers of efficient and effective learning.
To learn more, see the full study at: http://psi.sagepub.com/content/14/1/4.full.pdf