Research Identifies the Study Strategies ‘Most Likely to Succeed’ for Students

Not all study techniques are created equal. Decades of research in fields like cognitive psychology – the study of how the human mind thinks and organizes information – show that some methods of studying are more effective than others.

By “more effective,” we mean certain study techniques and habits are more helpful in aiding students to understand, remember and recall new concepts and information compared to other ways of studying. After all, the point of study time is not to stare dutifully at words on paper for a set period. Nor is it to cram in information, only to have it fade from memory right after the next test. Ideally, what you learn should become so integrated into your thinking and memory that recalling the material you need – at any future time you need it – isn’t difficult.

There are many techniques and skills that research has consistently shown to be key to studying effectively, but what really makes the difference for students is turning these techniques into daily habits. Among the most important study habits are:

1. Staying focused
As simple as it sounds, paying attention – really paying attention – to the material that you’re studying will help your brain process it and store it in long-term memory. Students should set up a distraction-free study space where television, music and cell phones can’t intrude.

2. Studying consistently instead of ‘cramming’
Cramming – or what some learning researchers call “massed practice” – simply isn’t very effective in establishing lasting memories of the information being studied. Research has established the superiority of “spaced practice,” or studying material to be learned over a number of shorter sessions.

3. Organizing the information being studied
Giving structure to the information being learned helps the brain to process it and store it in memory. Taking notes and making outlines of textbook readings and classroom lectures is one way of organizing information. A student can also construct a graphic organizer, such as a timeline or flow chart, that best suits the study material and his or her particular learning style.

4. Using mnemonic devices as memory aids
Mnemonic devices are particularly helpful in remembering and reconstructing lists of items, particularly longer lists. For example, a common mnemonic used for decades to remember the names of the nine major planets in their order from the sun is “My Very Educated Mother Just Sold Us Nine Pickles” for Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto (dwarf planet). Incorporating humor, rhyme and novelty into a mnemonic can increase its effectiveness.

5. Elaborating, rehearsing and relating
Superficial studying, such as just reading through a text one time, does limited good. In order for material to reliably move beyond short-term memory and become encoded in long-term memory, a student should interact with and process it in some way. Such complex processing is known as elaborative rehearsal. Simple, or maintenance, rehearsal consists of just rote repetition, whereas elaborative rehearsal requires interaction and mental processing. Some elaborative rehearsal techniques include rewriting the definition of a new concept in one’s own words, thinking up one’s own examples of the concept, literally drawing an illustration of the concept, and asking oneself questions about the concept (and of course being able to answer them!) Also, whenever possible, a student should try to relate new information to something that he or she is already familiar with. Research shows that establishing connections like this in the mind can boost recall of new material dramatically.

6. Visualizing
Visual learners make up a majority of the population, so the chances are good that you’re one of them! When studying a textbook, don’t neglect to examine illustrations, photos, graphs and other visual aids provided. They’re put there for a reason, after all, and not just to fill space! Even if there aren’t graphic elements accompanying your reading, you can make your own as mentioned above in #3.

7. Teaching
As strange as it may sound, playing teacher may make a person a better student. Parents should be willing to listen while their students explain to them the concepts and ideas that they’re studying in school. Such “teaching” requires a student to really process the information they’re trying to learn, which helps them truly comprehend the material and store it in memory.

Scientifically proven study tips and techniques like these are an integral part of Study Solutions’ comprehensive study skills workbooks How To Study Smarter, Not Harder – and Get Better Grades. Begin getting your struggling student back on the track to academic success by ordering the workbook for your student’s grade level today! Also check out the schedule for our live free and premium webinars.

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