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Effective Study Techniques

Whether you’re in high school, college or working towards a master’s degree, learning effective study techniques is crucial. These techniques help you beat the forgetting curve and make the material stick.

For example, having someone quiz you or quizzing yourself is good retrieval practice. You should also use mnemonics to make the information easier to remember.

1. Spaced Repetition

Spaced repetition is one of the most effective study techniques because it trains the brain to keep information in long-term memory through active recall. It is similar to how we train our muscles.

In a study conducted by York University, students who used the spacing effect performed better on a review quiz than those who did not. This shows how valuable this technique is for students and even adults, as it can be applied to any subject.

To use this technique, a student should first identify the material they need to study. This can be anything from vocabulary words to historical dates. Next, they should turn these into flash cards or use a spaced repetition software such as Anki, Quizlet, or Memrise. Then, they should start reviewing the cards at different intervals depending on how well they remember the information – more frequently for new cards, and less frequently for older cards.

2. Retrieval Practice

Retrieval Practice is a study technique that involves asking students to recall knowledge and then checking it. This type of activity can be a low-stakes quiz, online poll or class discussion. Students can check their answers by themselves (online quizzes), in groups, with a partner or with the instructor.

Some essay writers feel that application of retrieval practice is a waste of class time, but research suggests that the process can improve learning for everyone. It may even help students with personality traits and cognitive abilities that are associated with learning less well.

Having students craft essay answers also can be an effective form of retrieval practice. Unlike a multiple choice quiz, this approach requires students to sift through their memory for information chunks and then put them together into coherent prose.

3. Interleaving

Students often use blocked practice, studying the same type of problem (such as math word problems) consecutively until they feel mastery. A more effective strategy is interleaving, alternating between different types of problems such as vocab drills, subject-verb agreement exercises, and multiplication problems.

This learning technique improves memory and transfer by forcing retrieval from long-term memory, rather than relying on rote responses from short-term memory. It can therefore feel harder than blocking, but like other effortful study techniques it produces better long-term results.

Several studies have shown that interleaving can generate significant learning improvements on surprise criterial test tasks in subjects such as physics and second language learning2,28,31. However, classroom-focused interleaving research remains relatively scarce. Interleaving may also be more difficult to implement than blocking, especially for teachers who are used to teaching using a block method.

4. Mnemonics

Mnemonics are strategies that allow students to take abstract concepts and connect them to familiar images. This process helps to make new information easier to remember and can help students better understand complex theories by linking them to things that they already know.

In the first study by Stalder and Olson (2011), students in an introductory psychology statistics course were asked to complete a survey assessing their degree of recall and perceived helpfulness for mnemonics that were provided in class. The results show that mnemonics were well liked and rated as helpful by most students.

Mnemonics that were specific to the content of the course and incorporated memorable elements were most appreciated. These qualities can be easily adapted by instructors in their own classes.

5. Visualization

Visualization is the process of creating mental images of something. It can be used before or during studying, and it is particularly useful for test-taking. It allows students to picture the questions in their head and answer them mentally.

It can be done using a variety of different methods, including the Leitner System (a method based on flashcards), mind maps, diagrams, or simply by thinking about an object. It is important to use all senses when visualizing, as this makes it more realistic and effective.

The key to successful visualization is to practice it often and with a positive attitude. If it is easy to imagine success, the brain will anticipate that it won’t need much energy to achieve this, so it will just “ignore” the task.

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