How to Study Smarter

by / Friday, 22 November 2013 / Published in Study Skills

We’ve all heard the adage “Good students don’t study harder, they study smarter.” But how does one study “smarter”?

Many students “study” by glazing over texts and rereading their notes. Recent research has shown that this is one of the SLOWEST ways to retain information, some studies suggesting that students remember less than 10% of what they read, even when they’re actively trying to pay attention.

A growing body of cognitive psychology research points to two effective practices for studying:

1) Space out studying over time. The brain is constantly working to process new information. In fact, the majority of new information is cemented in the brain during sleep. By spacing out studying over a longer time and in shorter durations, the likelihood of retention grows exponentially. Conversely, cramming for a test into the early morning is a waste of time – you’d be better off on your test catching some Z’s and resting up beforehand.

2) Test yourself. Some familiar examples of testing oneself include using flashcards and completing problem sets. However, when it comes time to reading new information online or in a textbook, most students do not test themselves. They rely on the off chance that the information will magically transfer from the page to their memory just by reading. By testing oneself when reading a novel, i.e. employing active reading strategies, for example, there is a much higher likelihood of remembering key information. Doing so requires much more mental effort, but it pays off in the long run.
Ironically, many students state that spacing their studying and testing themselves are counterproductive. Spacing makes it more difficult to recall information the second time around and testing can be discouraging as it reveals gaps in one’s knowledge.

As mentioned in a previous post, What Makes an A+ Student?, there are certain traits and behaviors that set “A” students apart. According to a study out of Kent State University, good students space out their studying and they regularly test themselves. The authors of the study report:

In summary, low performers were especially likely to base their study decisions on impending deadlines rather than planning, and they were also more likely to engage in late-night studying. Although spacing (vs. massing) study was not significantly related to GPA, spacing was associated with the use of more study strategies overall. Finally, and perhaps most important, self-testing was a relatively popular strategy that was significantly related to student achievement.

How to Study SmarterIts’ important to remember that correlation does not imply causation. It may be that smart study habits cause good grades, or it may be something else, such as diligence, that causes both good grades and good study habits. Either way, the data are indicative.
These two study strategies are not easy to employ; however, if students can recognize that they can save countless hours of futile cramming and rereading texts and notes, the payoff can be great.

One Response to “How to Study Smarter”

  1. […] this scenario, an Educational Coach could teach the students research-based study methods that will both be more efficient and help them see the value in studying.  Meeting with a subject […]

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