The majority of students study by re-reading notes and textbooks — but the psychologists’ research, both in lab experiments and of actual students in classes, shows this is a terrible way to learn material. Using active learning strategies — like flashcards, diagramming, and quizzing yourself — is much more effective, as is spacing out studying over time and mixing different topics together.
McDaniel spoke with me about the eight key tips he’d share with students and teachers from his body of research.
1) Don’t just re-read your notes and readings
“We know from surveys that a majority of students, when they study, they typically re-read assignments and notes. Most students say this is their number one go-to strategy.
WHEN STUDENTS RE-READ A TEXTBOOK CHAPTER, THEY SHOW NO IMPROVEMENT IN LEARNING
“We know, however, from a lot of research, that this kind of repetitive recycling of information is not an especially good way to learn or create more permanent memories. Our studies of Washington University students, for instance, show that when they re-read a textbook chapter, they have absolutely no improvement in learning over those who just read it once.
“On your first reading of something, you extract a lot of understanding. But when you do the second reading, you read with a sense of ‘I know this, I know this.’ So basically, you’re not processing it deeply, or picking more out of it. Often, the re-reading is cursory — and it’s insidious, because this gives you the illusion that you know the material very well, when in fact there are gaps.”
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