Studying Techniques: The Ones That Work and Don’t (Surprisingly)

Maybe some of you academic workaholics out there, reading the title, might be getting a little suspicious. Or perhaps some of you idealize your highly-confidential study regimen as the holy-grail to getting you the valedictorian seat at Carnegie, then on to Harvard’s Dean’s List, to a CEO position at Goldman Sachs, pouring dollar-bills everywhere you go.

Unfortunately for the most of us, that’s not the case. We are constantly scouring methods to improve our goldfish attention spans and note-taking skills. So to settle your thoughts – here is a complete, research-proven list on the 10 studying techniques that are least efficient to the most. (Study is called “Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques” and published in a journal of the Association for Psychological Science).

Least Effective Studying Techniques:

  • Highlighting and underlining textbooks and other materials
  • Rereading
  • Summarizing
  • Keyword mnemonics (using keywords and mnemonics)
  • Imagery (creating mental images)

Why? A few of the “no” reasons from the report include that the benefits of summarization and imagery use for text learning have been shown be limited to criterion tasks, and keyword mnemonic is difficult to implement and appear to limited materials and for short retention intervals. Many students report rereading and highlighting, yet these techniques do not consistently boost performance, research shows.

Moderately Effective Study Techniques:

  • Elaborative interrogation — using “why” questions to make connections between new and old material
  • Self-explanation — providing your own explanations for problems while learning material
  • Interleaved practice — mixing different kinds of problems or material in one study session

Highly Effective Study Techniques

  • Practice testing — any form of testing yourself, including flashcards, doing problems or questions at the end of textbook chapters, or taking practice tests.
  • Distributed practice — studying material over a number of relatively short sessions

In terms of distributed practice, students are benefited to long-term retention, whereas the students “cram” the night before a test – as many of us experience – often forget the material shortly after.


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