BlogWednesday 29 Oct 2014

Why your current study methods may be letting you down

Research shows some study methods are better than others – find out if the ones you’re using are the most effective…

Have you ever worked really hard preparing for an exam and then, when you sat down to do it, couldn’t remember a thing?

Do you spend hours cramming and, yet, still feel like your brain is mush? Does the information you need to remember, simply refuse to sink in?

If you feel your current study methods are getting you nowhere, the results of research into the most effective study methods, published by a group of psychologists* in 2013, may hold the key to less stress and better results in the future.

In fact, after checking out the findings of this research, which analyses the effectiveness of ten different study methods, you may find yourself changing your approach to study altogether.

While the report acknowledged the value of various study techniques, it found that some were more useful than others in achieving the desired results for the student.

“If you ever needed definitive proof that ‘cramming’ is not the way to go, this is it!”

Surprisingly, some of the most common techniques (for example, highlighting or underlining; re-reading; summarizing; using memory aids such as keywords, mnemonics and creating mental images) were among the least effective.

practice test with pencil

Is it time to review your study methods?

In the study, these techniques gained a low utility rating because they did little to improve the overall performance of students regardless of their personal characteristics, learning conditions, the materials used or tasks set.

Methods that enjoyed moderate success included: giving explanations for ‘why’ the concept being studied is true;  making connections between new learning material and information that is already known; and having a study schedule that mixes up the type of material being studied in one session.

However, the two methods that stood out from the rest as being most effective were:

  • doing practice tests, chapter review exercises or self-testing of any form (testing yourself with flashcards is an example) and
  • having a regular pattern of studying in short bursts spreading the study activity over a period of time

These techniques received a high utility rating because results showed they boosted student performance across many types of tasks, in different environments for learners of different ages and abilities.

If you ever needed definitive proof that ‘cramming’ is not the way to go, this is it!

Still, the good news is that whatever you are studying, this research will help you direct your study habits in a more productive way.

*The ‘Improving Students’ Learning with Effective Learning Techniques’ report was authored by John Dunlosky, Katherine A. Rawson, Elizabeth J. Marsh, Mitchell J. Nathan and Daniel T. Willingham and published in an Association for Psychological Science journal called ‘Psychological Science in the Public Interest’ in 2013.