Scientifically Proven Study Techniques that Work For Students
Re-reading and highlighting notes are among the most common study techniques used by students. They are also the least effective, according to experts.
These common techniques are not very useful because they don’t encourage students to actively think and draw links between concepts.
To get the most out of your study session, we recommend you use these study methods based on science.
Exercise Before Study
The positive impacts of exercise on the brain are well established, but most people are unaware of how beneficial it can be to work out right before a study session. Even a brief workout gives the brain a boost by pumping nutrients and oxygen to it. Exercise can increase alertness, helping you retain knowledge more easily.
Break Sessions Down
When you learn something new, you’re physically rewiring your brain by forging new neural pathways. For this reason, it’s better to break study sessions down into smaller chunks of time. Shorter sessions allow you to embed concepts in memory more effectively. This explains why cramming doesn’t work in the long-term. Spacing study out also allows you to ‘relearn’ what you’ve forgotten in the interim, strengthening memory.
Mix Up Concepts
Experts recommend mixing concepts up during a session. Rather than devoting an hour to one topic for example, research has found it’s better to allot ‘mini-blocks’ of about 20 minutes to different but related concepts. Once a pattern has been established, it should be repeated over time. This practice is called ‘interleaving’ and it allows for parallel learning which helps the brain grasp and retain knowledge.
Using flashcards is a much better study technique than reading over notes because it forces your brain to actively retrieve information. Write down some prompts, then draw a card out randomly and explain the concept, or fill in the missing information. Other good retrieval methods include jotting down main headings or coming up with questions and then writing everything you can remember without referring to your notes.
Study to Teach
In a fascinating experiment, psychologist John Nestojko discovered that by telling his students they would have to later teach the content they were learning, students become much more engaged with the material. This is because they were forced to not just understand and memorise information, but to think about how they would explain it to others. When studying, consider how you would break down a concept into a series of steps to teach it to a child.
Practice Intentional Learning
Your study sessions will be much more productive if you’re intentional. This involves setting clear goals and regularly evaluating your progress. When planning a session, ask yourself what you want to achieve, and then reflect on your progress while studying. At the end, evaluate if you achieved your goal. Having the ability to critically analyse your own thinking is a scientifically proven method for success.
Ditch Your Devices
Most students today rely heavily on computers and tablets, but research has found that books are still best for studying. This may be because there are less distractions with books and students can focus more on the page. Another study found that students who learned material from a computer needed more repetition to retain it.
Move Somewhere Else
The simple act of moving to another room or going outside can improve concentration and retention, according to psychologist Robert Bjork. The reason is that a new location forces the brain to become more alert, helping you focus and remember.
These study techniques have been proven to work.