The best way to learn

If you’re into highlighting key information in the text, that’s probably not be the best way to learn. A review of research into the ten most common learning techniques by researchers at Kent State University found that some of the most common learning strategies students learn are not effective:

  • highlighting and underlining
  • rereading (although spaced out rereading works better than massed rereading, i.e. rereading straight away)
  • identifying and summarising the main points; although quick, it only works when you have learned how to summarise well, and then it’s better than highlighting and rereading
  • making mental images of what you’re learning
  • using a mnemonic; this is okay sometimes but is a generally poor study technique.

Elaborative interrogation (Why is this true, Why does it make sense that …) and self-explanation (explaining to yourself) are moderately effective and work best when you’re studying facts and have some prior knowledge or experience of the subject.

So how should you study? The two best techniques are:

  1. Practice testing e.g. answering the questions at the end of the chapter, using flash cards, practicing recall of key information, completing practice problems and case studies,  answering True-False questions (like the chapter-by-chapter True-False questions on this text’s website). The practice should be low stakes or no stakes and you should keep self-testing until you can aways get the answers right within and across practice sessions.Here’s another good way to learn by practice testing yourself: Divide a page in half when taking notes and take notes down one side. On the other side, shortly after you’ve finished the notes, write questions you can ask yourself about the material to test your knowledge, memory and understanding when you review the notes later. (It’s called the Cornell note-taking system. Here’s a link showing a good example. And another good link.)
  2. Distributed practice: the opposite of the ‘last-minute-cram’, spread your study over time and quiz yourself on the material. For example, attend a lecture, read the subject in the text and take notes, review your notes later, then use flashcards to restudy the material. Here is a link that explains this technique more fully. And here’s another good link.

Discussion questions

How can you re-jig your study techniques to learn more easily and effectively?