Category Archives: Study Skills

These posts apply cognitive principles to studying and school.

Testing the Testing Effect in the Classroom

In class we have talked about self-testing as a method of studying. This study specifically examines the testing effect and the extent to which different forms of quizzing improve test scores.

The purpose of the research conducted in this article was to experimentally examine the testing effect for content presented throughout the semester in a college course. They wondered if positive testing effects would emerge in the context of a standard course. One central issue raised by the testing effect findings is the extent to which the repeated exposure of the material stimulated by tests plays a role in the positive impact of intervening tests on final test performance. 

They were interested in the degree to which testing effects in the classroom reflect mnemonic processes that are more than just additional exposure of the content. They hypothesized that testing effects would emerge (quizzes with feedback would produce better performance on final tests than not tested/read facts), and they expected that testing (quizzing with feedback) would be superior to the reading content only condition in terms of increasing final test scores. They also predicted that short answer quizzes would produce greater gains in performance on unit exams than would multiple choice quizzes. Performance was generally better for facts exposed in the quiz condition than for facts that were not exposed. 

They found that the advantage of multiple choice performance over short answer performance is consistent with the idea that recognition is a less demanding retrieval task than recall. There was also a main effect of quiz type such that facts assigned to the Short Answer quiz conditions (exposed and non-exposed) were more accurately learned and retained than facts assigned to either the Multiple Choice or Read Only questions. There was a significant advantage of short answer quizzing over multiple choice quizzing and read only questions, but no significant advantage of multiple choice quizzing relative to reading. Those results seemed consistent with findings in the basic memory literature, used very different materials, and showed that recall promotes retrieval processing that is more mnemonically potent than does recognition. 

They also showed that cued recall quizzes enhanced performance significantly more than did recognition quizzes on a subsequent test in which the retrieval cues had been altered. Clearly, learning and retention were better when students were given feedback after missing a short answer question than reading the fact (twice) without being quizzed. Thus, it appears that giving feedback to items that were not recalled promoted integrated learning of the elements comprising the tested items. The findings suggest that feedback for missed multiple choice facts did not benefit learning more so than additional exposure (RO). 

Quizzing improved performance on two unit exams and a cumulative final exam for content covered in a college course relative to content that was not quizzed. Consistent with basic research on the testing effect, the benefit for short answer quizzing was more robust than the benefit for multiple choice quizzing. Quizzing that required recall of target information (short answer quizzes), but not quizzing that required recognition (multiple choice quizzes), was more effective than presenting the target information for reading. 

These findings support what we have discussed in class, that testing is a verified way of improving scores and the deeper the form of processing that you engage in (like short answer versus multiple choice) and the more frequently you engage in these kinds of testing, the more test scores seem to improve.



McDaniel, M. A., Anderson, J. L., Derbish, M. H., & Morrisette, N. (2007). Testing the testing effect in the classroom. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 19(4-5), 494–513.

Is it Time to Ditch the Music While Studying?

Many students in the library, HCC, and around campus can be found with headphones in while they study, but this music might not be helping these students study as effectively as they could. Chapter 4 of the textbook goes into how this is related to the irrelevant speech effect and how any speech can disrupt the encoding of information. After reading this I went to find out more, worried that I would have to start studying in silence all the time. In the article “Does Listening to music while studying make you a better student?”(Segren,2019) it discussed how listening to music that is calm and has no lyrics is better than listening to lyrical music. It’s better to ditch listening to music though according to the textbook as well as this article The reason for this is because memory recall is better when information is encoded in a similar environment to the one a student will be in when they need to recall the information, which is usually a silent classroom. Therefore here at UMW, I think the best places to study would be like the silent floor in the library, or an empty classroom, without headphones in. The next article I looked at called “ The Impact of Music in Memory” was a study that also had significant findings that not listening to music was the best way to study. Unlike the first article, this study did not find that listening to calm music had an effect on the participant’s cognitive ability compared to the group who studied in silence. This article found that type of music had more of an effect on peoples abilities in activities such as sports, but not IQ 

For those who still want to listen to music while studying and can’t fathom not listening to music, there is still hope according to the Segren article. There are some benefits to listening to music. If a student feels they need music/music with lyrics to study, it is beneficial for the student to listen to the same songs every time that they study. This is because the brain will learn that the music is unimportant and almost tune it out while the student studies because the music has become generalized. 

 According to the Segren article as well as the “should you listen to music while studying” (US Today, 2019), studies found when people are in a good mood, they tend to be more productive and better problem solvers. Therefore, if music helps a student get in the mood to study and feel happy it can help them study more effectively. The dopamine release from the music can help a student continue to feel energized and engaged in studying especially for longer study sessions. As mentioned above not all music is the same when it comes to studying. It’s best to stay away from angry music because it can increase cortisol levels and stress which will lead to worse performance in cognition. Unless angry music makes the student happy. For students looking for music to listen to while studying, I would recommend the music from animal crossing, Lindsay sterling, or listening to music scores from movies or plays. The mood boost that music gives a student could possibly be used to help a student prepared to get in the right mindset to take a test. People are more likely to remember information when they are in the same mood that they were in when they encoded it. This is known as memory bias. Therefore, a student could make a studying playlist that puts them in a good, positive and productive mood that they listen to while studying. They could then before going take the test they studied for listening to that playlist to get into the same mindset they were in when they studied it. Listening to music while studying can be good or bad it really depends on the person, what type of music, and how the student can use listening to music to their advantage  




Useful Study Tips From Youtube and How to Apply Them to Learning a Language

College classes tend to be a step up from any type of class that students have taken before. Therefore,students tend to need to create new study habits once they are in college . The video “five best ways to study effectively, scientifically proven”on YouTube brings up study habits backed by principles from cognitive psychology.It Highlights ways that students can ditch ineffective study habits and use more effective ones to improve their academic career. For all classes these tips could apply, but  they could definitely be highly effective for students trying to learn a second language. The first technique the video gives is putting the desired learning on an object in the student’s environment. A way this could be done for trying to learn a language is by putting the vocabulary on the objects in the environment that they are linked to . This was done in a Spanish class that I took,for class room vocabulary by putting labels on things such as the door that had the Spanish word for door. This first technique uses the encoding ability of your brain to move concepts and learning objectives from working memory and short term memory to long term memory. The next technique the video talks about was teaching others the material that a student is trying to learn. By doing the student gains a better understanding of what they are  trying to learn and theyalso realize whatthey still need to encode if they are struggling to teach any of the material that theyare trying to learn. This technique uses and test or retrieval abilities, being able to take information from long term memory and bring it back into working memory. This technique in the setting of studying for a language class could be done by teach friends or fellow classmates the grammar concepts that a student just learned in class. The third technique is using practice tests which also uses the student’s ability to retrieve information from long term memory. Practice tests are a highly effective way of studying because theytest whether or nota student has encoded the information thatthey wanted to learnand is also a way of rehearsing the information so thattheysolidify the connections they have already encoded intotheir long termmemory on the topic. In a langue class practice tests could be using flash cards, or an online study tool that teststhe studenton the information. The fourth technique that the video discusses is have long periods of intense focused studying with short breaks. In a language class or studying for any classa student could take five minute breaks to take a walk , look at social media, or doanything other than what they werestudying and then aftertheirbreak going back to the material.The fifth technique that the video discussed is spaced repetition.  This technique allows the student to encoded information better than cramming the night before a test. For a language classa studentcould apply this by studying after class each day leading up totheirtest instead of the day before. This allows your long term memory to build stronger connections.  

The cognitive principles that were applied in this video were the way that the various parts of memory works. It focuses on how the brain encodes information and moves it to long term memory for retrieval. The video references studies that talked about the best ways to encoded information.

This video appeared to have a very good understanding as how memory works. It present a lot of peer-reviewed research to back the claims that it was making about how to study more effectively.

Link to video and references from the video

Where to Study?

Starting from a young age, routines are ingrained in everyday life. You go to school, go to your classroom, and then learn about the same subjects in a particular order throughout the day. Then you come home, maybe go to sports practices, eat dinner, take care of chores and responsibilities, and your homework gets done in the same spot every day; for me it was at the kitchen table. From childhood, we have usually been taught to study and do our homework in a quiet and distraction-free space, which for most people, means finding one consistent spot in their house.

While I was taking my course to become a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) for Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, I found this age-old advice to be wrong. The course and the behavior analysts I work with have constantly emphasized the importance of running trials in various settings to increase generalization in a child’s learning. This new knowledge made complete sense to me; you work to teach the basics of life skills and these skills need to become generalized so that the kids can go to school, make friends, ask for help, etc…. Sessions also require a lot of movement to allow kids to interact with each other and do different things, but you have to work on their programs, so why not continue regardless of what room you’re in?

This all made sense to me until I thought about it in the context of learning. I teach kids in different settings, but why was I not taught to do homework or study in different settings? An article in the New York Times, “Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits”, summarizes a study in which one group of college students studied vocabulary words once in two different rooms, and another group studied the same vocabulary words twice in one room. Both groups of students were tested, and the group that studied in both rooms performed better than the group that studied twice in the same room.

The question remains: why does it matter where you study? We were always told to study in a quiet, distraction-free space because that’s the closest we could get to a testing environment when we weren’t taking a test. This makes sense, but why does the location matter? According to the article, the brain is always making subtle associations between what you’re studying and what’s happening in the environment around you; however, when you vary the environment and hold the information constant, the information is able to make stronger connections. This is because the brain is not trying to make connections between the same information and the same environment every time you study. Similarly, varying the type of material seems to result in stronger connections than studying one skill at a time. So, if you prefer that one corner desk in the library, it’s worth switching it up to a different desk or a different corner when studying for that next test.

Can Color Coding My Notes Really Get Me Better Grades?

Do you hate studying? Do you hate taking notes and never knowing which piece of information is where? Well, this commonly known study tip is actually useful, not just to make your notebook look pretty. 

The tip? Color coordinate certain things!! You can such as definitions, dates, and headings of topics. This way you can easily block out other notes when looking for a specific piece of information. If we highlight all definitions in yellow, we can skim our notes, only having to look for things in yellow to quickly find our definition, which also gives you a memory tool during test time. Certain color usage may make certain tidbits of information stick out amongst all of the other facts you have to know. 

This idea uses Broadbent’s filter theory, which he uses to explain selective attention. Kendra Cherry writes an article, reviewed by Dr. Steven Gans MD, and defines selective attention as “the process of focusing on a particular object in the environment for a certain period of time”(Cherry, 2019). Color coding allows selective attention to happen easier, as our brain has a color to hone in on. Not only that, but NCBI notes that color “functions as a powerful information channel to the human cognitive system and has been found to play a significant role in enhancing memory performance”(Dzulkifli and Mustafar, 2013). Using color in your notes can help you on your test, it literally helps the brain remember more information. It is even used to help patients with dyslexia (Dzulkifli and Mustafar, 2013). If something as simple as highlighting your notes can significantly help memorization and retention, why not do it? The two authors, Dzulkilfi and Mustafar, outline numerous studies in which color aids in memory and retention. They note that “The more attention focused on certain stimuli, the more chances of the stimuli to be transferred to a more permanent memory storage” and color is what brings attention to the stimuli (Dzulkifli and Mustafar, 2013). They write about a doctor who performed a study where they participants were tested on their recall of shapes and their color. It resulted in higher retention of the color than the shape (Dzulkifli and Mustafar, 2013). So maybe instead of circling and underlining notes, writing them in color pen or highlighting will result in better test grades. 

What do I think? I think that anything is worth trying. As I read on in the article, there is so much proven that color is extremely useful when it comes to retention, and highlighting doesn’t take long, so why not. We can focus in on it, use our selective attention to find it easier amongst all the notes, and it helps us remember. We can use the color association during the test and remember “Oh yeah, that was a date in pink” and that may give you visual clues. In college, any study tip is helpful and if it is as simple as coloring my notes, I will try it out. After all, it makes sense, when we are in a clothing store, we are gravitated towards colors we like, so, why not do the same with our notes, it is psychologically proven.

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:

Attention Blink and ADHD



People who have ADHD are more likely to experience difficulties with the attention blink test.  Due to their difficulty to stare at a fixed space and attention deficit they miss more letter sequences. 



To put this into perspective, this can be applied to the real world for any given person in circumstances such as if a driver in front of you is swerving off the road, you will briefly become focused on that catastrophe (attention blink) in the making and lose sight of the specific details of the traffic around you in that moment.  I can only imagine how difficult it may be for a student in a classroom that is not on ADHD medication and is trying to pay attention to a lecture but sees phones lighting up with notifications or hears students talking outside in the hallway.

As someone who has ADHD (not on medication) this makes sense to me.  When doing the attention blink test on the Zaps program used in my Cognitive Psychology class there was a continuous stream of 80 different tests.  I found myself fidgeting in my seat and having to take breaks.  It made me feel irritable and impatient and I had a hard time finding the first letter in the sequence for the first few trials.  Eventually I sort of picked it up but I struggled finding a second letter in the sequence.



Stop Slapping Those Keys and Use Your Pen

A rising freshmen is visiting a college they are interested in. They sit in on a class, look around and notice something about the students. Much like the way movies portray college students, the majority of the ones in class seem to be on their laptops taking notes. There is only a small portion of students who are jotting down notes in their notebooks, as the teacher is lecturing. Recent findings have shown that people who take the time to physically write notes on a paper tend to be able to recall information better than those who take notes electronically. Guess the old fashioned way of taking notes throughout history beats new ways of taking notes on technology! People who take notes on a computer typically has more notes, in comparison to those who write.

Can it be arguably supported that students who write notes down with a paper and pen actually get more out of class lectures? In cognitive psychology, acts such as writing notes down transfers to the hippocampus, which is where information will be encoded, stored and eventually retrieved during test time. There are two different types of memories, implicit and explicit, which both work differently. Implicit memory focuses more on perception of the world around. On the other hand, explicit memory focuses on the meaning, concepts and stays in long-term memory. In a study that Mueller and Oppenheimer conducted, the notes that people on laptops took showed higher amounts of verbatim, which shows that there is a lower level of retaining the information in their memory. Both students who took notes on paper and on their laptop took a test after sitting in a lecture, for the experiment. The results showed that people who took notes by hand had more conceptual understanding and therefore learned more. The increase in conceptual comprehension in people who write notes show that they store material in their explicit memory, which is where long term memory stores information as well. Hence, there is a better chance for theses students to recall information better on tests.

Why do so many students take notes on their laptops then? People deem the use of technology as a new efficient way of recording notes. They are also able to record notes faster than by hand.  Henceforth are able to record more notes in detail. The answer may seem convincing, but overall it is best not to fall for these reasons and it is better to just switch to writing notes down.

Students who take notes by hand write slower, thereby forcing them to efficiently and mentally summarize key points of information into concise sentences or bullets. There are less levels of verbatim in their notes as a result. They are then able to encode information better and in a more meaningful way, summarizing information in their own words or chunk information in a way that is more memorable. When information is encoded with meaning, there is a better chance of later recalling the information.

With ever advancing technology in our generation today, it is most likely to be expected that not as many people will revert back to taking notes by hand. However, there is hope that people may switch from typing up notes to writing them out on their tablets or computers with a stylus. Students will still have the opportunity to write down notes, not necessarily on paper, but the effect will be the same. By handwriting notes, students can better avoid excessive information and have a higher chance in recalling information on tests.

Improve Your Memory

Go up to any student on campus and ask them, “If there was a foolproof way to increase the amount of information you can retain from your working memory, would you try it?” and I can almost guarantee that if they are able to understand what you are asking them, they will say yes. I mean, who wouldn’t want to increase their memory capacity? Especially around mid-terms and final exams, every student on campus is looking for a way to make all the facts and concepts of multiple subjects stick in their minds at least long enough to make it through whichever exam they have coming up next. Unfortunately, I don’t know any foolproof ways to increase your memory capacity (and to be honest, if I did, I would probably write a book about it and then sign some multi-million-dollar contract to become one of those self-improvement lecturers that live on massive yachts in the middle of the Caribbean, not put up a post detailing it for our class).  However, in class we learned about an excellent strategy to help Improve our working memory; Chunking.

Before I continue with the rest of my article I want to bring your attention to the difference between Improving and Increasing:

To Improve is to make or become better; To Increase is to become or make greater in size, amount, intensity or degree. In relation to Memory:

To Improve Memory is to become better at remembering information; To Increase Memory is to make greater the amount of information that can be remembered.

Back to the article, our book defines a “chunk” as the hypothetical storage unit in working memory; essentially a piece of information. In class we defined Chunking as the repackaging of information to create meaning from working memory. To simplify that, Chunking is combining multiple individual pieces of information into a larger group. This group of associated information then becomes its own chunk (the more I read it, the more it looks like “chunk” is not a real word). According to a study by George Miller (Miller, 1956) working memory holds 7 plus-or-minus 2 chunks. The theory behind chunking improving memory is that you can increase the amount of information in each chunk. You are still only remembering approximately 7 chunks, they are just larger chunks of information. It does not increase the size of working memory itself. In class, Dr. Rettinger listed the following series of letters for us to remember:

 H, O, P, T, R, A, S, L, U.

While it is certainly possible for someone to remember those 9 letters as they are, isn’t it a lot easier to remember when broken up into chunks?


The 9 individual pieces of information became 3 chunks of extremely easy to remember information. Another, much more relatable example of chunking involves numbers:

5, 4, 0, 6, 5, 6, 8, 7, 9, 2.

This string of 10 random digits is much harder to remember than the following three chunks:

540, 656, 8792.

Phone numbers (and yes, for those of you who were wondering, that is my number, you’re welcome) are generally remembered in chunks for the area code, prefix, and line number (learn something new every day) making them easier to remember. Then they came out with this handy thing called the Contacts App on cell phones so who needs to bother remembering phone numbers.

I found an article online titled “What is Chunking and How Can it Increase Your Memory?” The article initially just summarizes Chunking similarly to the way I did above and then goes into a few ideas for how to group together similar items to help remember them:

  1. Group Items by the First Letter
  2. Break Strings of numbers up into groups of three or four
  3. Categorize items, like on a grocery list

While I can’t help you Increase your memory capacity, Chunking (I swear I’m almost done with the word) is an effective way of Improving working memory.  Practice and you might find you can remember more with this technique than whatever method you use currently.

Acing finals through elaborative storage and creativity.


With finals week just around the corner, who doesn’t want a helpful way to retain information in a simple and fun way? Finals are dreadful for many, but they don’t have to be as dreadful any longer. There are a multitude of helpful study tips proven to work, but are they as fun as mnemonic’s? Mnemonic devices consolidate many benefits into one study aid. There are many different approaches to retain information through mnemonics. Students can make up allegorical stories that include exam information or use first letter schemes. In many instances, people can even include more than one mnemonic device for a certain concept. This strategy proves to be helpful as well as enjoyable because it engages the user and preserves knowledge in long term storage. When the user establishes a personal connection to the information rather than attempting to absorb the information raw, it becomes more accessible. Mnemonic devices make the perfect study device because they facilitate learning and can improve memory of material. There are many helpful examples on this website 

When using study aids the type of memory that is used plays into how long the information will be stored in the brain and whether or not it will be remembered well enough for later retrieval. The mnemonic study aid couples working and long term memory together which leads to elaborate processing. Mnemonic devices use this form of rehearsal through keeping the information active in the memory while at the same time understanding the material through relatable happenings. Keeping the information relevant and relatable facilitates the movement from working to long term memory. Seeing that remembering the information and understanding it does not come solely from exposure, there needs to be a deeper understating in order to store the material. This study technique guides the information into long term storage, truly understanding and comprehending the material to its fullest potential.
This website goes into detail explaining why this type of study aid can be so helpful for students. Mnemonic’s are both an entertaining and beneficial way to retain important material. Using your imagination instead of memorizing material will enhance both short term and long term memory, limiting the expended energy used for studying and establishing the information in context for later retrieval. According to the article, when a person attempts to recall information, the brain activates the nerve cells in order to store the new information, which enhances the memory. By visualizing a phrase or story, it becomes much easier to recall later on for the exam. I find it easier to visualize information when taking a test then trying to remember memorized facts.

A great representation of both story-telling and first letter schemes comes from This specific example uses a mnemonic device, which goes as follows: Phillip(P) wanted to eat(E) his friend Mary(M) but he died(D) from arsenic(AS) poisoning. Although this story seems absurd, it creates a better visual than an ordinary example that may otherwise be misconstrued as realistic. This example includes the student, his friend, and an intriguing plot line. I find that sometimes the more far-fetched the example is, the better it works. Through telling a story the student also used the mnemonic technique of first letter schemes. Using this technique can be useful when trying to retain information for math, but using a story along with it creates an even better image than using the first letter technique on its own. The images in the story are then stored in long term memory to be obtained for future reference.

I find that using mnemonic devices is more of a rewarding challenge than a way of studying.
There is so much room for creativity in a way that doesn’t otherwise present itself in other study
aids. Although other study aids are shown to work, I find that they only serve as a crutch for
short-term retention. To me, these techniques tend to feel like they are meant to be stored only in short term, working memory when the real purpose is to retain material that can be able called upon for later use. By implementing elaborative rehearsal the information is being used to for rehearsal as well as long term storage. This way the study material is put to use and used
creatively. You may even be able to remember the information to use in everyday occurrences.
Employing these mnemonic devices to study material uses less study time in the short run and
more retention in the long run. Why study to forget when you could start studying to retain?