If you’re tired of feeling upstaged by your classmate’s colorful marker-spattered lecture notes, then the following may just fill you with a sense of smug satisfaction. As it turns out, constantly re-reading and reviewing the study material is not one of the most efficient learning strategies, despite it being one of the most commonly employed.
Furthermore, if you’ve long suspected that highlighting sentences and circling paragraphs is an unnecessary use of time and energy that could be better spent actually paying attention to what you’re reading, then you’re on the right track. Self-testing techniques that improve your memory retention, such as flash cards or textbook exercises, have been proven to be far more effective than simple note-taking.
This is not some miscellaneous study tip, but a fact supported by decades’ worth of cognitive psychology research and backed up by statistics.
University of Louisville psychologist Keith Lyle, PhD, took it upon himself to demonstrate the effectiveness of self-testing. He would assign one of his classes a four-to-six-question quiz at the end of each lecture, while a second class would be taught the same syllabus but receive no end-of-class tests. As expected, the class that had been regularly quizzed outscored the other class on all four of the midterm exams.
Learning how to learn
A survey of study strategies employed by students at Washington University in St. Louis found that self-testing was only the 9th most popular strategy out of 11. And what was the most popular? Re-reading notes or textbooks. This is a clear indication that many students do not assess the efficiency of their chosen learning strategies. They are content to pursue the same old tactics regardless of whether they are deriving maximum benefit from them.
Naturally, students are inclined to take the easier route. They may be under the impression that if they just read the same material over and over again, their brain will do all the work for them, and that the information will somehow be transfused into their memory as if by a process of osmosis.
Sadly, this is not the case. The brain has to be trained to recall information, and many of the current study strategies employed by students are not well suited to achieving this end.
However, adapting to new information and altering one’s habits are part of the learning process, and any student who accomplishes this will be stronger for it.
Worth the effort
However, try to explain the benefits of self-testing to a student. It’s difficult for them to view tests and end-of-class quizzes as anything other than a massive inconvenience, an unnecessary addition to their already crippling workload. Just give me the exam and have done with it, they might say. We all know it’s the only thing that matters anyway, right?
This is an unfortunate byproduct of the traditional educational approach, where the emphasis is on procuring satisfactory results on the final exam. At first glance, a rigorous schedule of self-testing seems to encourage this mentality, as bombarding students with end-of-class quizzes and worksheet assignments only strengthens the notion that the sole purpose of their learning experience is to prepare them for the exam period.
In truth, the ideal learning experience should provide students with skills that can benefit them in the long-term, and one way it can achieve this is by giving them the very tools they need to learn.
Ensuring that students are able to assess the effectiveness of their study strategies, and thereby determine how best to harness their brain and apply it to the task of assimilating information, gives them the means to advance their own education and expand their knowledge. This is sure to benefit them in whatever vocation they choose to pursue.
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