Study Tip: Spatial/Relational Studying

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always had a problem with flashcards. Teachers would tell me to make flashcards for vocabulary words, for example. I found that once I’d written the words on the card, and added their definitions, I could already remember which definitions matched which words. Since I could match the words and definitions accurately, studying the flashcards no longer felt necessary. The whole process felt redundant and unhelpful to me. But the problem was that just because I knew which word went with which definition, that didn’t mean I understood the term.

In class, we discussed maintenance rehearsal versus elaborative rehearsal. Maintenance rehearsal is rehearsing a piece of information enough to keep it active. In this rehearsal, it doesn’t ver really move into long-term memory. Elaborative rehearsal, however, is rehearsal that involves processing. It helps us move information into long-term memory. Learning isn’t just about repeated exposure (think of the penny or the Apple logo). Learning needs deeper levels of processing. This might involve imagery, meaning, or personal tie-ins. Learning that involves surface details or sound patterns just doesn’t stick as well. Research supports the textbook and the discussion we had in class. In a study by Craik and Tulving (1975), participants were asked to answer questions about words. Sometimes, the participants answered about the meaning of the word (deep). Other times, they answered about the sound/structure of the word (shallow). They were then asked to pick the original words out of a longer list. While the deep processing took longer, the subjects who semantically processed the words showed greater performance on the recall task.

My original study tip is developed from several sources: my personal study habits, our class discussion, the research, and a technique mentioned in class by a fellow student. In a discussion about the problems of flashcard usage and maintenance rehearsal, this student mentioned how one could create flashcards using class notes etc., but then instead of engaging in repetitive and rote memorization with those cards, attempt to categorize them instead. I felt that this would be a much more meaningful way to interact with the material. As I thought about this suggestion, and pondered my own study habits, I came up with my suggested study tip: Flowcharts

You’ll need a whiteboard (a gallon plastic bag around a white sheet of paper works, but the bigger the board the better. In the ITCC, there are tons of big white boards free for our use!), dry erase markers, and small cards/sticky notes. First, write out important pieces of information on the cards. These bits of info can be definitions, theories, categories, relationships, tasks, people, ideas, studies, aspects of studies, etc. For example, if you have notes on a scientist who did two studies, each of which had two main findings, write out a card for the scientist, each study’s basic details, and details on each of the findings. When you’re done with the information for the chapter, shuffle your cards. Next is the fun part.

diagram-empty-2Now, you want to take your cards and start sorting them into a flow chart! You can stick them up on the board, and use the markers to draw connecting lines and arrows. The most important part here is to emphasize relationships. Thinking about how your concepts interact is important for making them stick in your long-term memory. It’s much more effective than just memorizing!

flowchartPractice putting your cards in a linear/chronological flow and drawing arrows between steps. Show what came first conceptually, and influenced later steps. Then try a hierarchical structure. What are the overarching themes and categories, and the subcategories and details? How do they relate to each other? Don’t be afraid to draw tons of arrows! The more times you engage with the pieces of information in different ways, the more comfortable you’ll be with them.

Good luck studying!

3 thoughts on “Study Tip: Spatial/Relational Studying

  1. amichaud

    This post definitely put into perspective how different people approach studying. I personally find that flashcards are really helpful in studying and have been my main source of studying throughout my life. Although they are helpful I do sometimes find that I’m just memorizing information to forget late on. I think it’s definitely beneficial to put examples on the back that correlate with each word in order to help relate the topic to everyday life. Im definitely going to give his method a try for my next test!

  2. elisepoffenberger

    This post is easy to relate to. Sometimes I find it difficult to find ways to study efficiently. Recently, I’ve been going to the ITCC and writing on the whiteboards! Depending on what I’m studying for, they either help or not. Personally, for definitions, flashcards seem to help me most. When I’m trying to study bigger picture things, flowcharts (possibly on a whiteboard) help me the most. This article was really interesting to see why some things work better for others and why. Thanks for the study tips!

  3. cbudd33

    I love this! Sometimes, I do not consider myself the best at studying, because I will get to questions on a tet and my mind will draw a complete blank. Deep down, I know that this is because I did not process the info well enough. There is a HUGE difference between constantly reading over notes vs. actually remembering that information. It’s nice to know that there are actually terms for this! I know I need to work on my elaborative rehearsal…and the study tip you provided will definitely be tested out by myself this weekend as I study for my finals! Thanks again!

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