Beginning as early as elementary school, we are taught that studying leads to success as a student. While studying is often necessary in order to learn new material, the way that you go about studying can impact the amount of information you learn and the amount of time spent attempting to learn information.
In a recent study, discussed in an article of Psychological Science in the Public Interest, ten commonly used studying techniques were examined in order to determine which ones were actually effective methods.
Of the ten study methods, five were judged to be effective:
- Intermixing practice problems*—students usually learn to perform one type of problem at a time, and then practice a group made-up of that same type of problem before moving on to learning a new type of problem. While it may be good to learn how to perform a single type of problem initially, it is more effective to practice the different types of problems all together than it is to only practice one type at a time (for example, practice a variety of multiplication, division, addition and subtraction problems together rather than only a set of multiplication problems).
- Retrieval practice*—students should recall the information they have learned in order to keep it accessible for when they need to remember and apply it in the future.
- Interleaved practice—students study one topic for a while and then switch to studying a different topic. For example, a student could alternate between sessions of studying psychology and then algebra.
- Elaborative interrogation—students question why the information they are reading is true.
- Self-explanation—students understand a process by explaining it to themselves.
*These were the most effective
Some people may be more surprised by the methods that were found to be least effective, however, because several of them are commonly taught in schools as helpful ways to study.
Out of the ten methods examined, five were found to be the least effective:
- Highlighting or underlining text
- Rereading text
- Using images to learn something that is text-based
- Keyword prompts (I used this technique in elementary school to memorize my states and capitals. For example, I have a little brother named Paul, and Saint Paul is the capital of Minnesota. So anytime I heard Minnesota, I would picture a mini soda, and since the soda was miniature, I would imagine my little brother, Paul, drinking it.)
- Summarizing the material
The least effective methods do work in certain cases, but not in all of them. While some of the least effective study strategies can still be useful, the research done in this study demonstrates that rereading or highlighting may not be the best use of your time, and there are other effective ways to study.
It could be helpful to experiment with the different study techniques tested in this study to see which one works best for you. There may be different subjects in which one is more helpful than another, and you do not need to just stick to using one technique.
More importantly, follow those tried-and-true methods to get yourself in the right mindset for learning, such as get enough sleep, make sure you are not hungry, take short frequent breaks during study sessions, avoid procrastinating, get some physical activity, etc. Check out this article for more information about these methods. Stay positive and try not to stress too much—you will be fine.