4 Best Science-Backed Tips to Study Effectively

What’s your favorite way to study?



If you chose re-reading the chapter, highlighting, or reviewing your notes, you’re not alone! They are one of the most popular strategies for studying around the world. But they have been proven to be generally ineffective.

Why not? What’s the proof?

In 2009, an experiment tested the effectiveness of re-reading. It found that exam scores did not significantly improve after students read a textbook chapter a second time. Another study done in 2005 found that reviewing notes, highlighting, and re-reading had no effect on students’ exam scores; in fact, the total number of hours spent studying was only weakly related to exam scores.

Instead of spending an outrageous number of hours hitting the books, try these 4 effective study methods backed by learning scientists:

1. Do practice questions while studying

Many of you think that studying starts with the "reviewing and memorizing phase" before moving on to the "testing phase". But studies have actually shown that doing practice tests while you study improves test performance more than just spending more time studying.

What’s the science behind it?

Taking practice tests or short quizzes forces you to deliberately recall information, a method called retrieval practice or the testing effect. When included in the study phase, this study method strengthens your brain's networks and significantly improves long-term memory.

TL;DR

You will remember information better when you do practice tests while you study, rather than spending time on study alone.

2. Study multiple related topics together

Most of you have been taught to study a topic thoroughly before moving on since elementary school. This is called blocked practice. You review a chapter, do some practice questions for it, move on. Sound familiar?

But, your university and college tests aren’t organized like that. They have questions on different topics and different types of question formats, all randomly placed. By only using blocked practice, you don’t train your brain to choose the correct concepts and formulas to answer a problem.

Instead, you should switch between different topics while you study, a method called interleaving. For example, if you’re creating flashcards with Pearson Prep or using pre-made ones in Revel, add and mix questions from more than one chapter.

What’s the science behind it?

You often feel the illusion of mastery when you go through chapter questions and get into the groove of repeatedly applying the same concepts. But in reality, this method doesn’t fully prepare you with the critical thinking skills you need for your test to choose the correct concepts and solutions. It forces you to actively retrieve your knowledge and figure out how to apply it, ultimately improving your long-term memory.

TL;DR

Switch between different topics and types of questions when you study to train the critical thinking and application skills you need for tests.

3. Make concepts meaningful to you

When you copy vocabulary, highlight, or re-read, you don’t deeply think through the material. As a result, the information only sticks in your brain for a short period of time. 

The better way to study is to make what you’re studying personally meaningful to you by using deep processing methods. Here are some of them:

a) Draw
A recent Canadian study found that drawing is one of the most powerful memory tools because it gives your brain multiple ways to think about the material in your own way. Drawing concept maps, infographics, or even comic strips can do wonders for your memory.

b) Create your own exam questions
By thinking through what your instructor may ask, you will review the key concepts and terms you need to know. If you enjoy studying with friends, you can trade these questions with each other for extra practice! 

Make sure to take the test without checking your notes or textbook. Give partial answers when you're unsure and set a time limit. Creating a real test environment will give you a more accurate sense of your preparedness.

c) Find examples in your own life
Finding personal meaning in what you learn can not only improve your learning but also make studying more interesting and insightful. Research has shown that developing associations is more effective than creating new memories. Next time you study, take notes in your own words and ask yourself: "How does this apply to my own life?" 

d) Teach someone
"While we teach, we learn," said the Roman philosopher Seneca. Scientists today call this the protégé effect. To teach others, you yourself must fully understand and internalize the information. It also requires you to actively retrieve information.

What’s the science behind it?

Deep processing methods require you to let new information truly sink into your brain instead of rehearsing it in a repetitive, shallow way. The more you use detailed, intensive thinking, the more meaningful connections you make with the material, and the more durable its trace in your memory.

TL;DR

Re-reading, highlighting, and copying down definitions don’t make information stick in your brain. Instead, use deep processing study methods to think deeper about the content and make it personally meaningful to you.

4. Assess what you know or don’t know

If you ask your friends to predict their score before taking an exam, they will most likely make predictions that are higher than their actual score. That is because many students don't recognize their knowledge gaps and are overconfident about how prepared they are.

Next time you do practice tests, take note of what you get wrong. This way, you can find any trends in areas you may still be struggling with and figure out the best way to strengthen them.

Why does it work?

Metacognition means "thinking about thinking". It helps you be self-aware about your learning. Evidence suggests that having poor metacognitive skills can actually cause poor performance because you don’t choose the right study methods and don’t gauge how long they need to study for.

TL;DR

Self-test and get feedback to accurately assess how prepared you are in order to decide which study strategy is best for your needs.

The question now remains: How can I actually apply these strategies? What resources can I use?

While there are thousands of educational tools out there that can help you, it can get overwhelming trying to use a million different apps and websites. If your instructor has chosen to use an interactive all-in-one eTextbook called Revel, you’re in luck!

This enhanced eTextbook has practice quizzes and interactive videos within the text, flashcards to get your interleaving on, and—the student-favorite—an audiobook function. It was designed based on decades of learning science research to help you develop good study habits.

No matter how you choose to study, learning effective study practices will not only benefit you all throughout university but also help you achieve your future goals more easily and efficiently.


Sources

1. Callendar & McDaniel, 2009; Dunlosky et al., 2013
2. Gurung, 2005
3. Eisenkraemer et al., 2013
4. Roediger & Karpicke, 2006a
5. Birnbaum et al., 2013; Lin et al., 2013; Rohrer et al., 2015
6. Kornell & Bjork, 2008
7. Murtiana, 2012
8. Dunlosky & Rawson, 2012; Foster et al., 2017
9. Miller & Geraci, 2011
10. Metcalfe & Finn, 2008
11. Metcalfe, 2009