Research Shows That This is the Most Effective Studying Method!

The life of college students never seems to get any less stressful. From the early classes, to the midnight cram sessions, and the gargantuan group projects– college seems to keep everyone busy. Cognitive Psychologists work on research every day to find out how memory and attention works. When asked about their favorite study habits that work best for them, students come up with mixed answers. Some say concept mapping helps them, some just simply read the text book, and others prefer to test themselves. Some students test themselves using flash cards, and others test themselves by making up mock tests on the subject to test their memory.

In a study done in 2011, Cognitive Psychologists devised research to find out what the most effective studying strategy was for students. Early on, they asked them what they thought the answer would be. The majority of students stated that they thought it would be concept mapping, but the results were surprising for the students! The results concluded that students did significantly better on tests and had better retention if they enacted a strategy called “memory retrieval” versus other strategies like concept mapping.

Memory retrieval is a process of studying in which the student tests their memory as they read and does smaller increments rather than cramming. Memory retrieval showed significantly better test scores in the research cited below.

Here is how you can practice memory retrieval and see how it works for you!

First, distribute your study time. Practice the concepts as you go in smaller increments. This will ensure that you understand the concepts at hand before you go on to the next topic.

Second, test yourself after reading each topic. This will aid you in awareness of your understanding of the topic and what you need to work on before moving on.

Third, connect the next topics to the previous topics that you studied and continuously test yourself on those topics. This way, you are retrieving memory as you go, so that it remains relevant and is related to the material you are currently learning.

Of course, not every college student has the luxury of time, or has hit a bump in the road of the semester, so this studying strategy is best done when there is more time to do this. The best advice that I can offer to alleviate this predicament is in the beginning of the semester, try to get as ahead as possible. Be diligent about your work from the beginning, so that if something happens to make you fall behind, you are able to spare at least one day. College students’ stress can be alleviated significantly if they are not always pressed for time, and studying in smaller amounts more often can be just the recipe we have been asking for. So as fellow college students, I urge you to practice this studying strategy and let me know how well this has worked for you!


Karpicke, J. D., & Blunt, J. R. (2011). Retrieval practice produces more learning than
elaborative studying with concept mapping. Science, 331, 772–775. doi:

3 thoughts on “Research Shows That This is the Most Effective Studying Method!

  1. kathrynarntsen

    As a procrastinator, I have always been one to cram for tests the night before even though I know it is not a successful studying method. Regardless of all the research saying that this studying method often fails students, I have continuously pushed off my studying. This research is interesting because it shows how students were not aware what the most effective studying strategy would be. I appreciate how you spent time explaining how to utilize the most effective studying method, memory retrieval, rather than just explaining what it is. I should definitely put this method to the test when I have to study for my next quiz or exam. Memory retrieval may be difficult for a procrastinator because you have to begin studying in small amounts some time before the test rather than studying the night before. I have been trying to stop procrastinating this semester and have been successful so far, but will have to see how memory retrieval works for me. Studying strategies are an interesting part of cognitive psychology because they directly impact my life as a college student and can help me better succeed.

  2. kaylaf

    This article would’ve been great if I came across it 3 years ago instead of now ????. As a person who uses multiple methods of studying, I definitely see the benefits of memory retrieval, especially in circumstances where the information is cumulative so you can add the new information to the old information and there isn’t a big gap of time between learning the first bit of information to the most recent information. Although this is a good method, I base my most successful studying off a quote by William Glasser that says we learn 95% of what we teach to others. So taking your memory retrieval method and adding on trying to teach the information to somebody really helps with mastery of concepts.

  3. aupadhya

    I enjoyed reading this post because the information was very practical and useful as midterms come up around the corner. I try to use memory retrieval as a study habit, but like you mentioned, it can be hard to do that when time is a very limited resource. However, because of your post, I feel motivated to try and carve out time in my days to study in small increments rather than just right before the test. It make sense that our brains will be more prone to retaining information if it is presented in manageable chunks rather than just all at once. And if we retain it more thoroughly, it will therefore lead to better recall when the test actually happens.

Comments are closed.