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What Are the Most Effective Study Methods?

Many students find that their current study methods, which had worked in secondary school, are less valuable for college. This is understandable, as college is quite different. Professors are less involved personally, classes are more extensive, exams carry more weight, reading is more intensive, and classes are much more demanding. Nothing is wrong with you; you must acquire more effective study skills. Fortunately, many active, effective study strategies are effective in college classes.

Incorporating these effective learning techniques into your regular study schedule will help you learn course material efficiently. Experiment with them to find what works best for you.

Part 1: Understanding the Study Cycle

The Study Cycle, established by Frank Christ, divides various aspects of studying into separate parts: previewing, attending class, reviewing, learning, and checking your understanding. Even though each step may appear self-evident at first glance, many students often try to cut corners and overlook chances for an effective learning process. For instance, you might decide to skip a reading material because the professor will cover the text in class anyway; by doing so, you miss a significant opportunity to learn through different methods and to take advantage of the repetition and distributed practice that you’d gain from both reading ahead and attending class. Recognising the significance of all phases of this cycle will help ensure you take advantage of opportunities to learn effectively.

Set the Stage

To effectively learn and remember information, it’s essential to establish the right conditions within yourself and your surroundings. Consider trying out the following study tips:

  • Get a good night’s sleep: There is an undeniable correlation between students’ academic performance and the amount of sleep they receive. And this doesn’t simply mean getting 8 hours of sleep before a major exam. What is of greater importance is obtaining sufficient sleep for multiple nights before engaging in intensive study sessions.
  • Switch up your study environment: Despite seeming like an unlikely study strategy, studying in different environments can improve recall performance. Rather than studying at home consistently, consider exploring a new coffee spot every week or visiting your local library. Studies indicate that switching up your study environment can enhance your memory and concentration levels.
  • Stick with what works: If you have a reliable study environment at home or a café that consistently helps you be productive, it’s best to continue using it when stressed.
  • Listen to calming music: While any music is fine, it’s widely accepted that classical, instrumental, and lo-fi beats serve as excellent background music for studying and can improve focus. Music with lyrics might cause distractions.
  • Eliminate distractions: To minimise distractions, silence your phone and any background noise, such as the TV or radio. Avoid checking social media until you’ve finished your study session.
  • Opt for healthier snacks: Instead of coffee and candy, which provide a temporary energy boost followed by a crash, choose snacks like edamame, apples, or nuts for sustained, focused energy.

Now that you’re all set let’s explore the study techniques you can use in your study sessions.

Part 2: Effective Study Techniques and Tips That Work

Developing effective time management and learning techniques is crucial to helping you retain the most information. Cramming the night before will rarely cut it anymore. Start the upcoming academic year with a new strategy and try some practical study tips below.

Retrieval Practice

Retrieval practice is centred on recalling information later. Remembering the answer to a question boosts learning more effectively than searching for the answer in your textbook. Additionally, recalling and writing down the answer to a flashcard is much more impactful than presuming you know the answer and flipping the card over prematurely.

Engaging in retrieval practice increases the likelihood of remembering the information in the future. Here are some methods to incorporate the retrieval process into your study routine.

  • Utilise practice tests: Quiz yourself using practice tests or questions without referring to your book or notes.
  • Make your questions: Create your questions as if you were the teacher and you were preparing a test. If you are with your study buddies, suggest that everyone does the same and then exchange questions.
  • Use flashcards: Make flashcards, but ensure to practice your recall method. Instead of turning the card too quickly, write the answer and verify.

The Feynman Study Technique

Pioneered by Richard Feynman, the Feynman Study Technique is a straightforward technique to swiftly grasp a concept by articulating it in uncomplicated language. Its guiding principle of the technique is to truly comprehend something and endeavour to explain it plainly. This implies that we will likely achieve understanding faster by articulating a concept using our own words.

How it works:

Write the topic or idea you are learning about on paper. Then, describe it in your own words as if you were teaching another person. Review your explanation and pinpoint any areas where you may have been mistaken. Once you have found them, return to your notes or learning material and find the correct answers.

Finally, if there are any parts in your writing where you utilised technical jargon or intricate language, revisit and rephrase these segments in simpler terms suitable for individuals lacking your level of education.

Spaced Learning Practice

Spacing out your studying sessions over multiple short periods across several days and weeks, known as “distributed practice,” is one of the most effective learning strategies. Spaced practice (“distributed practice”) advises students to study over extended periods of time rather than cramming the night before. When our brains are on the verge of forgetting something, they put in more effort to retrieve that information. Spacing out your study sessions enables your mind to establish connections between concepts and expand on the knowledge for easier recall in the future.

Instead of cramming all your math problems right before class, consider doing a few issues per day. Try actively studying your history class notes for 10-15 minutes daily. Although your total study time may remain the same, breaking it up like this allows you to prepare for all your classes in shorter, focused sessions. This approach can help you stay organised, concentrate better, and retain information more effectively.

To try this study technique, here is a sample schedule you can follow:

Day 1: Absorb the lesson during class.
Day 2: Review and revisit the material.
Day 3: Review and revisit the material.
After one week: Review and revisit the material.
After two weeks: Review and revisit the material.

Planning is crucial to this study technique. At the start of the semester, allocate time specifically for studying and reviewing the material. This study method will help you stay on track and hold yourself accountable, even if your exams are several months away.

Leitner System

The Leitner System is another flashcard-based learning system. The ideal way to implement this engaging learning strategy is to organise the cards into multiple jars to monitor when each set needs to be reviewed. Initially, every card is placed in Jar 1. If a card is answered correctly, it advances to the next jar. However, if a card is answered incorrectly, it is moved down to a lower jar or left in Jar 1 if it is already there.

Each jar determines how much you will study each set of cards. Here is a sample schedule:

Everyday— Jar 1
Every two days— Jar 2
Every four days— Jar 3
Every nine days— Jar 4
Every 14 days— 5

Pro Tip: Jumbled notes can hinder the recollection of key points from a lecture. Using colours to write is an effective method for structuring the information you are studying. It also aids in reviewing and prioritising the most crucial concepts.

Colour can enhance an individual’s memory performance. Studies also tell us that warm colours (red and yellow) create an inspiring learning environment that can help students positively perceive the content and engage more with the study materials. Furthermore, warmer colors boost attention and evoke enthusiasm and information.

Colour coding your notes may seem like a no-brainer, but keep these tips in mind:

  • Key points should be written in red.
  • Important information should be highlighted in yellow.
  • Topics should be organised by colour.
  • Only the most critical information should be coloured, not everything.

Mind Mapping

If you’re a visual learner, consider mind mapping, a method that enables you to arrange information visually using a diagram. Start by placing a word in the middle of an empty page. Then, jot down the main ideas and keywords and link them directly to the central concept. Additional associated ideas will then extend from these main branches.

The arrangement of a mind map reflects how our brains store and recall information. Organising your notes in a mind map format, rather than simply jotting them down, can enhance your understanding of what you read. Additionally, it allows you to grasp the overall structure by illustrating the hierarchy and connections among concepts and ideas.

So, how do you do it?

  • Get a blank piece of paper (or use an online tool) and write your study topic in the middle, such as “child development.”
  • Link one of your key concepts (e.g., a book chapter or notes) to the central topic, such as “developmental stages.”
  • Connect sub-branches of supporting concepts to your main branch. This involves linking ideas. For instance, “Sensorimotor,” “Preoperational,” “Concrete operational,” and “Formal operational.”

Pro Tip: Utilise different colours for each branch and sketch images if it aids understanding.

The SQ3R Method

The SQ3R technique is a method for enhancing reading comprehension. It assists students in recognising key details and retaining information contained in their textbooks. SQ3R, or SQRRR, represents the five stages of the reading comprehension process. Utilise these steps to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your study sessions.

  • Survey: Begin by skimming the initial chapter of the book and making notes on any headings, subheadings, images, or notable features, such as charts, instead of reading the entire book.
  • Question: Before reading, formulate questions about the chapter’s content, like “What is the main idea of this chapter?” or “What knowledge do I already possess about this topic?”
  • Read: Read the entire chapter or material and search for answers to the questions you created.
  • Recite: After reading a section, summarise what you just read in your own words. Identify significant points and answer any questions from the second step.
  • Review: After completing the chapter, thoroughly review it for full comprehension. Practice testing yourself with the questions you formulated and revisit any sections as needed.

This study method can be applied before your final exam.

The PQ4R Method

This technique involves an engaged approach to learning, enhancing both memorisation and comprehension of the subject. PQ4R, similar to the previously mentioned SQ3R method, is an abbreviation representing the six stages within the process.

  • Preview: Previewing the material before reading is essential to gain an overview of the topic. This involves scanning the content and focusing on the headings, subheadings, and any emphasised text.
  • Question: Ask questions about the subject, like, “What do I hope to understand?” or “What knowledge do I already possess about this subject?”
  • Read: Take your time to go through the information, focusing on one section at a time. See if you can find the answers you’re looking for.
  • Reflect: Have you addressed all your questions? If not, take a moment to revisit and see if you can find the answers.
  • Recite: In your own words, either speak aloud or write down the gist of the material you just read.
  • Review: Review the material again and ensure all your questions are answered. If anything is still unclear, go back and try to answer it.

Part 3: Additional Learning Techniques

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Exercise Before Studying

Exercise not only combats tiredness but also boosts energy levels. If you find it hard to muster the motivation to study, try incorporating workouts on a daily basis. It doesn’t have to be a full hour at the gym; a 20-minute home workout or a brisk walk around your neighbourhood will suffice. The goal is to get your heart rate up. Exercising before you study:

  • Jumpstarts brain function and can enhance memory and cognitive performance.
  • Release endorphins, lowering stress levels and putting you in a better mood for studying.

Study Before Bed

Sleep is vital for learning, brain function, and memory consolidation. Reviewing notes or flashcards before sleeping can enhance memory recall. According to Scott Cairney, a researcher at the University of York in the United Kingdom, the brain refines newly learned information during sleep, making it easier to retrieve when needed. This process is crucial for learning and retaining healthy brain functions.

Your brain consolidates your memories before you go to sleep. Rather than staying up all night, study a few hours before bedtime and revisit the material in the morning.

It’s Cool to Be Intense

Not all studying is the same. You can achieve more by engaging in intensive study sessions. Shorter, concentrated study periods will help you complete tasks with minimal wasted effort. Intensive study sessions are more effective than prolonged periods of studying.

One of the most effective ways to study is by distributing study sessions over multiple sessions. Intensive study sessions can be 30-45 minutes long and should involve active studying techniques. For instance, self-testing is an active learning strategy that enhances studying intensity and learning efficiency. However, planning to spend extended periods self-testing is likely to lead to distraction and loss of focus.

If you intend to test yourself on the course material for 45 minutes and then have a break, you are more likely to stay focused and remember the information. Additionally, the briefer, more concentrated study sessions will likely create the necessary pressure to avoid procrastination.

Part 4: Conclusion

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No one likes to dedicate excessive time to studying, which renders them ineffective. Acquiring efficient study methods guarantees long-term learning and thorough exam preparation and alleviates potential test anxiety. With the techniques above, you can reach maximum learning potential and ideally avoid last-minute cramming and enhance the effectiveness of your study sessions.

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