Your Studying Strategies Aren’t Working (& What To Do Instead)

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Affiliate Links Let’s talk studying strategies. Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Reedier III and Mark A. McDaniel takes the latest research in cognitive psychology and other disciplines and synthesizes it into practical learning and studying strategies. And it’s not what you think. In fact, how you studied in your educational life probably wasn’t the best method. What’s more, how your students or kids are studying probably aren’t the best methods either.

Poor Studying Strategies

So what does and doesn’t work? 

Make It Stick -- why your studying strategies need help!The authors say NOT to . . .

highlight and underline. (I will still do this because I love going back to my books and reading what stood out to me. But, it doesn’t help me retain what I’m reading at the moment.)

cram.A lot goes in, but most of it comes right back out in short order.

use blocked practice. This is when you study all of one type of problem before moving on. So, only working on reducing fractions before moving on to adding fractions. It actually isn’t as productive as you might think.

Better Studying Strategies

The authors say that you want to make your brain WORK, that this makes the difference in memory retention. They say to . . .

quiz yourself. The act of recalling what you learned by quizzing yourself makes learning stick. Even information you already know still needs to be in your self-quizzing practice.

space out study and practice. Allowing time to elapse between sessions strengthens the learning and memory. Sleep helps consolidate memory so spacing out practice by at least a day is very beneficial. It’s good to have a bit of forgetting (not a lot) but enough that it’s work to remember or relearn the material.

interleave two or more subjects. Similar to spacing, interleaving means that you don’t study all your math and then all your science but you study a bit of math, switch, study a bit of science, switch, and so forth. “You switch before each practice is complete.”

vary your practice. Don’t practice very piano song from the start to the finish. Instead start in the middle one time. Mix it up. In the same way, don’t review all your multiplication flash cards in the same numerical order. Mix them up.

elaborate.  This could be relating the material to your background knowledge, explaining the material to another person, or explaining how the material relates to your life. This “adds layers of meaning and promotes the learning of concepts, structures, and interrelationships.

use mnemonic devices. These hold information ready for recall. One is the simple mental tool of an acronym like ROY G BIV. Another is a more complex device called a memory palace which involves visualizing a place with features and characters that will clue important information you need to remember. Another device is rhyme or song. Both rhymes and song lyrics cue retrieval. (See multiplication songs for ideas.)

Make It Stick is a must-read for educators. I’ve only touched the surface of the material covered in the book. To go deeper, you know what to do — read the book and then quiz yourself!

study strategies that work

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    Hi! I’m Melissa Taylor, mom, writer, & former elementary teacher & literacy trainer. I love sharing good books & fun learning resources.

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