While it is true that the efficacy of study techniques varies, based on each individual’s strengths, aptitudes, and personality, according to research by the Association for Psychological Science, some study habits are more effective than others.
Writer Annie Murphy Paul describes some of the best and worst ways to learn in an article on Time.com, Highlighting Is a Waste of Time: The Best and Worst Learning Techniques.
Here are some of the techniques she discusses in her article:
The Most Effective Ways to Learn
- Distributed practice – “This tactic involves spreading out your study sessions, rather than engaging in one marathon,” Murphy Paul writes. “Cramming information at the last minute may allow you to get through that test or meeting, but the material will quickly disappear from memory. It’s much more effective to dip into the material at intervals over time. And the longer you want to remember the information, whether it’s two weeks or two years, the longer the intervals should be.”
- Practice testing – Self-testing or taking practice tests over to-be-learned material. “Practice testing could involve practicing recall of target information via the use of actual or virtual flashcards, completing practice problems or questions included at the end of textbook chapters, or completing practice tests included in the electronic supplemental materials that increasingly accompany textbooks.” (Source: Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology)
Less Effective Ways to Learn
- Highlighting and underlining – “Some research even indicates that highlighting can get in the way of learning; because it draws attention to individual facts, it may hamper the process of making connections and drawing inferences,” Murphy Paul shares.
- Rereading – While this is a very common approach, it is a passive, rather than active study technique, and does not generally lead to better comprehension or retention.
- Summarizing – Noting the main points of a text in order to get the gist while leaving out unimportant details – while there may be some benefit to using this approach, distributed practice and practice testing have been shown to be much more effective.
Of course each student is unique and therefore the best approach to learning new materials will vary from one student to the next. However research on learning continues to provide insight into best practices.
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