A Guide to Studying and an Original Study Tip

This article by Regan A.R. Gurung and Lee I. McCann from the Association for Psychological Science outlines several effective study strategies in addition to several ineffective study strategies. The effective strategies include techniques such as creating examples that apply to the material, generating mnemonics and mental images, using a study partner, and self testing with the review questions at the end of a chapter in the book. All of these methods require elaborative rehearsal. They require the student to think about what the material means and make connections to material the student already knows as opposed to simply relying on rote memorization. Making connections and thinking critically about new material makes it much more likely that the student will remember the new material. In contrast, the ineffective strategies the article lists, such as spending too much time on key terms and summaries to the extent that pedagogical aids are ignored, highlighting too much, studying with a friend without testing each other, and using review questions as content rather than an opportunity to test knowledge are all tasks that require maintenance rehearsal. This is a more mechanical, rote memorization process. This makes it much less likely that the information will be remembered and understood. However, all of these tasks could easily be tweaked to create tasks that would require elaborative rehearsal. All in all, deeper level processing is integral to memory because the ability to retrieve a memory later depends on the memory connections that were developed during the process of encoding. In order to retrieve a memory, you must be able to rely on a number of connections, each of which triggers another connection, which leads to memory retrieval. This is why mnemonic strategies are effective; they depend on these connections.

With this in mind, I would suggest writing journal entries relating material from class to material from other classes as a way to learn and study material. It requires elaborative rehearsal due to the need to think about the material in a different way in order to connect it to other classes, possibly in different disciplines. It would also be effective to relate the material to previous material from the same class. Both tasks would serve as an active learning process that would create connections and facilitate later retrieval. This strategy would also serve to solidify understanding of concepts in the other classes to which the student was relating the material. It also forces you to put the concepts into your own words while learning and studying material; this is an important skill to have because it also aids in memory retrieval, as it requires elaborative rehearsal.

Lastly, it is also important to note that another important element of learning and studying is attention. As the article mentions, it is not beneficial to study while engaging in distracting activities such as watching tv, texting, or using social media. This is due to the fact that we have limited cognitive resources. If we are dividing our attention between multiple tasks that require similar resources, such as texting and reading a textbook, we will not be able to encode the information as well because some of our cognitive resources will be devoted to texting.

To sum up, the best study strategies are those that require elaborative processing, or making connections and thinking critically about new information. It is also best to engage in these study strategies when you are devoting all your attention to them.

5 thoughts on “A Guide to Studying and an Original Study Tip

  1. npalacio

    This article contains some good tips and actually reminds me a lot of what I have been learning in Social Psychology. For instance, one of the tips is to make connections with what you have learned and social psychology’s self-relevance theory states that we are more likely to remember something if we can connect it to our lives. I think this shows how all of the disciplines of psychology are very much interrelated.

    1. jfreud Post author

      I agree. I found a lot of what I learned in Social Psych applicable to the way I study as well. I think it helps to be able to learn by looking at the same issue from different, yet interrelated perspectives. I also think it would be interesting to see if people’s study habits change after an intervention in which they are taught the most effective ways to study and why they are most effective.

  2. fremont

    Wow! As someone that is always looking for new methods of studying, as I am absolutely useless when it comes to tasks such as memorization, this article was vastly useful to me! The suggestion of writing a journal to ensure material sticks is simply ingenious! You excelled at relating the topic back to the lessons in the textbook – I felt as if this were something that could easily appear as a passage within. In my future studying efforts, I intend on trying out your method – I have no doubt that it will work. I have always relied on more rote memorization tasks in my efforts to try to learn material, but it never worked for me. It took me reading the textbook, listening in class, and reading this article for me to realize why it hasn’t ever worked for me. I am constantly amazed and excited at the prospect that so much revolves around understanding the human brain – if I hadn’t read this article, I might have not changed my study habits as soon as I am! I also intend on utilizing my friends more as we have our study sessions – teaching each other the material is not only beneficial, it’s fun! Thank you very much for directing our attention to this issue. I am sure we all appreciate the new insight into studying, being college students and all.

  3. cbudd33

    This was a really good read, especially after our recent lecture on LTM, it kind of summed things up for me (and helped me prepare for the quiz we have tomorrow!) :). Since that lecture and reading your blog, I’ve not only tried to change my study habits around a bit, but I’ve found myself engaging in the material I am presented with during lectures in each of my classes. I’ve been working on drawing more pictures/diagrams/maps and making deeper connections. Aside from what I’ve been writing in my notes, I’ve found myself more in tune and into the lectures that I am presented with. (It’s been pretty great!). Information like this is what the student population needs more of. So many college students suffer simply because they do not understand good study/information processing habits. Little do so many of us know, our worlds would be 10x easier if we knew these facts, such as sitting down and knocking out (meaningful and efficient) studying for an hour and a half; as opposed to sitting in the library for 10 hours a day, checking our phones, tweeting, instagramming, etc. Studying efficiently is not only bettering our chances of getting good grades, but it’s increasing our time management skills!

    Thanks for posting a blog that is not only informative, but extremely helpful to all!

  4. mgehlsen

    I can attest to the devotion of attention and its positive effect on memory retrieval. Basically every time I study I have my phone on my desk in case someone texts me, but I often find myself constantly looking at it or checking it just to get away from studying. Even during class it’s gotten to the point where I can’t focus because I know that my pocket could vibrate at any second and distract me.

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