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Learning Strategies: Study Skills for Students

What are some retrieval practice strategies?

Frequent self-testing is one of the most commonly used and effective retrieval practice strategies. See Thomas Frank's YouTube Video on Flash Card and Retrieval Practice. To achieve deeper learning, questions should require you to make connections, comparison, or predictions as opposed to simply recalling definitions or facts; in other words, you need  to retrieve information that is difficult as that helps increase long-term learning. The benefits of this strategy are often enhanced when you collaborate with your peers, when you write down information, and when the instructor gives feedback as that helps increase metacognition. 

What are some spaced practice strategies?

First and foremost, you should be educated about the benefits of spaced practice. Spaced practice should be incorporated into in-class activities and assessments as well as out-of-class exercises and homework. For example, in order to complete an in-class task, you could be required to recall key facts, concepts or ideas that were learned earlier in the course. To maximize the benefits, you should try to recall the information without referring to your notes, books or other course materials. Feedback following the activity is important to ensure that misunderstandings are corrected immediately, so make sure to communicate with your instructor. If your quizzes and exams, not just the final exam, are cumulative, this would require you to use spaced practice when preparing for formal assessments. Like in-class activities, homework should require you to regularly retrieve that which was learned earlier in the course. 

One way to utilize spaced practice is to use the Pomodoro Technique.


Does mapping, drawing, and sketching work?

It’s long been known that drawing something helps a person remember it. A new study shows that drawing is superior to activities such as reading or writing because it forces the person to process information in multiple ways: visually, kinesthetically, and semantically. Across a series of experiments, researchers found drawing information to be a powerful way to boost memory, increasing recall by nearly double. At a neural level, the strength of a memory depends largely on how many connections are made to other memories. An isolated piece of information—such as a trivial fact—is soon forgotten in the brain’s constant effort to prune away unused knowledge.

What are some interleaving strategies?

To interleave while studying, you should choose several topics and spread them throughout your study sessions. The topics can be from the same or different subjects, but some experts believe that this strategy is most beneficial when the subjects are related in some way. For example, during a study session, you could devote some time to math, some time to chemistry, some time to biology and then cycle back through the topics, possibly studying the topics in a different order and using different study strategies. Changing things up forces you to retrieve information and make new connections between the topics: for example, how is this topic in biology related to what was just studied in chemistry? It is important to devote enough time to each topic to ensure that a deeper understanding is achieved each time the topic is studied. You should be careful not to use interleaving as an excuse to switch to another subject when the current subject becomes too challenging. Instead, you should persist in one subject until you have a sense of accomplishment before moving on to another subject.

Why does teaching others work?

When you actually teach the content of a lesson, you develop a deeper and longer-lasting understanding of the material than students who do not teach it. Interestingly, the act of preparing to teach alone can lead to short-term gains, but the act of preparing to teach coupled with actually teaching another person is what leads to long-term retention and deeper learning. The benefits to learning by teaching are not limited to comprehension; the strategy also helps you develop essential social-emotional learning skills. Learning by teaching can help improve self- efficacy, confidence, communication skills, and learn productive beliefs about themselves.

Are You Ready to Form an Effective Study Group?

Here are a few tips you should consider when forming an effective study group:

1. Your group should not exceed 5 members and weekly meetings are essential.

2. There should be a group leader who determines meeting locations, study session times and informs the group about next week’s subject.

3. The group should determine what they will cover from the start; the leader will only ensure that the group stays on track.

4. Be sure to review together, go over difficult homework questions, and address any other problems group members face during class.

5. Use online technologies accessible to everyone.