Six research-proven ways to learn better (2023)

The latest in psychology to help prepare students for upcoming exams.

Vonbriar stringer Creation date: February 19, 2020 9 minutes of reading

  • Learning and memory

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Stringer, H. (2020, February 19).Six research-proven ways to learn better.

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Six research-proven ways to learn better (1)

Many students are missing out on a lesson in a key area that can help ensure their success: how to study effectively.

It is common for students to prepare for exams by rereading lecture notes and studying textbook chapters, study techniques based on the assumption that memories are like recording devices that can replay memories during a test. "But human memory storage and retrieval operations differ from recording devices in almost every way," says psychology professor Robert Bjork, PhD, co-director of the Learning and Forgetting Laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles.

What helps our brain store information? Study strategies that require the brain to work to retrieve information rather than passively reviewing material.

Björk coined the term "desirable difficulty" to describe this concept, and psychologists closely study how students can develop techniques to maximize the cognitive benefits of their study time.

Here are six research-proven strategies of psychology educators.

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1. Remember and repeat

Learning methods that involve recalling information more than once, known as repeated retrieval practice, are ideal because each time a memory is recalled, it becomes more accessible in the future, explains Jeffrey Karpicke, PhD, a psychology researcher at Purdue University in Indiana, which studies human learning and memory.

The benefits of this technique became apparent when Karpicke conducted a study in which students were trying to learn a list of words in a foreign language. Participants learned the words in one of four ways:

  • Study the list once.
  • Study until you have successfully memorized each word once.
  • Study until you have successfully remembered each word three times in a row.
  • Study until you have remembered each word three times in a row during the 30-minute study session.

In the last condition, students advanced to other words after correctly memorizing a word once and then recalling it again after practicing other words.

A week later, the researchers tested the students' words and found that participants who practiced repeated use of spatial memory, the final condition, far outperformed the other groups. Students in this group recalled 80% of the words, compared with 30% of those who recalled the information three times in a row, known as mass recall practice, or once. The first group, which did not include recall, recalled the words (Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition(PDF file, 288 KB), Voo. 37, year 5, 2011).

Many students assume that remembering something they once learned is proof that they have memorized it. But, says Karpicke, just because you can remember a fact in one study session doesn't mean you'll remember it later on a test. "Just a few repeat searches can have a significant impact, and it's best to do it in intervals."

2. Adjust your preferred strategies

Other research finds support for online flashcard programs like Study Stack or Chegg to practice information retrieval, as long as students continue to assess themselves in the days leading up to the test, says John Dunlosky, PhD, who studies self-regulated learning at Kent State University. . in Ohio. For single-word answer cards, evidence suggests thinking about the answer is effective, but for longer answers like definitions, students should type or say the answers out loud, says Dunlosky. If the answer is wrong, study the correct one and practice again later in the study session. "They should keep doing this until they get it right and repeat the process in a few days," he says.

Concept mapping, a diagram that represents relationships between concepts, is another well-known learning technique that has become popular, but researchers in cognitive psychology caution students to use this strategy only when trying to create a closed-book map. Karpicke demonstrated this in a study in which students explored topics by creating concept maps or writing notes in two different states: book open or book closed. With the book closed, they remembered everything they could remember. A week later, students took a quiz that tested their knowledge of the material, and students who practiced information retrieval with the books closed performed better (Journal of Educational Psychology, Voo. 106, year 3, 2014).

"Concept maps can be helpful as long as students are involved in retrieval practice while using this strategy," says Karpicke.

3. Find yourself

Students should also use quizzes, from teachers, in books or apps like Quizlet, to improve their ability to retain and recall information. It works even if students answer these quizzes incorrectly, says Regan Gurung, PhD, professor of psychology at Oregon State University. "Even trying and failing is better than not trying," he says. "Just trying to remember something helps cement it in your mind."

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Gurung examined different approaches to using questionnaires in nine introductory psychology courses across the country. In the study, researchers worked with trainers who agreed to participate under different conditions. Some required students to take chapter tests once, while others required students to take each test multiple times. Additionally, some students were instructed to take all chapter tests before the exam deadline, while others were required to space their tests to meet deadlines throughout the course. Students who turned in their quizzes and answered them multiple times did better on class tests (Applied Cognitive Psychology, Voo. 33, year 5, 2019).

While trying and failing practice tests can be an effective learning strategy, psychology professor Nate Kornell, PhD, of Williams College in Massachusetts, was skeptical that students would choose this type of learning because many people inherently dislike it. . I was interested in investigating whether it would be possible to develop an exercise recall strategy that would increase the likelihood that students would get the correct answer without sacrificing the quality of learning. To test this possibility, he conducted a study in which participants tried to memorize word pairs like "idea: seeker." The objective was to remember the second word after seeing only the first one. Students can choose to practice by re-studying all the pairs or by testing themselves with different clue options, seeing two or four letters of the second word in the pair, or no letters at all (Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, Bd. 4, 2019).

Most students preferred self-assessment to proofreading, and the results showed that the self-assessment group, even with cues, performed better than the proofreading group on the final word test. "It's a win-win situation because the technique that worked most effectively was also the one they liked the most," says Kornell.

More importantly, students find they are learning more effectively if they answer correctly as they practice, which means they are even more motivated to practice recall when cues are available, says Kornell. To use this strategy, she suggests adding clues to cards or quizzes you create, such as the first letter of the answer or one of the words in a definition.

4. Make the most of study groups

Many students also enjoy studying with their classmates. But when working in groups, it's important that students give everyone a chance to find their own answers, says Henry Roediger, III, PhD, professor in the department of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis. Louis. One study highlighted the importance of this fact: participants tried to learn words in a foreign language by responding aloud or listening to their partner's responses (Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied(PDF file, 426 KB), Vol. 24, nº 3, 2018). Unsurprisingly, loud respondents outperformed listeners in a test two days later. The researchers also compared participants who answered aloud with partners who silently tried to remember the answers. Everyone received feedback on whether they received the correct answer. Both groups showed comparable performance. "Waiting for others to provide answers can slow down the process, but it leads to better retention for everyone because it requires individual effort," says Roediger.

5. Mezclalo

The researchers also examined the potential benefits of "interlocking" or studying for different courses in one study session (Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, Vol. 23, November 4, 2017). For example, instead of studying for two hours for a psychology test, students can use that time to study for tests in psychology, biology, and statistics. A few days later, students could study again for the same courses at a different time. "This strategy, rather than locking your own learning into courses, naturally introduces spacing for students to practice retrieving information over time," says Björk.

But research on intercalation has had mixed results, says Dr. Aaron Richmond, Professor of Educational Psychology and Human Development at Denver Metropolitan State University. "If concepts from two disciplines overlap too much, it can interfere with learning," says Richmond. "But introductory chemistry and psychology are so different that they don't create interference."

6. Find what works for you

The ability to effectively assess one's approach to learning and level of achievement is known as metacognitive ability. Research has shown that "when people are new to a subject, their subjective impressions of how much they know are more inflated," says Paul Penn, PhD, senior lecturer in the department of psychology at the University of East London and author of the 2019 book "The Psychology of Effective Study".

"If your perception of your learning is inflated, you have little incentive to examine your approach to learning," he says.

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To raise awareness of the value of sound study strategies, administrators at Samford University in Alabama invited psychology professor Stephen Chew, PhD, to speak on the subject during an annual freshman meeting each fall semester. Although it was an evaluation study, the conference was found to produce immediate changes in beliefs and attitudes about the study, but no long-term changes. "Students forgot the ins and outs of class and fell back into old habits under the stress of the semester," says Chew.

To provide an accessible resource, launched aseriesof five 7-minute videos on the most common misconceptions about learning, how to optimize learning, and much more. Teachers across the school assign the videos as required class assignments, and the videos have been viewed 3 million times by high school, college, and medical students around the world.

While this form of campus-wide educational education is rare, psychology researchers are optimistic that it may become more common in the coming years. "There's a lot more discussion about the science of learning among teachers today than there was ten years ago," says Karpicke. "Most students don't know how to study effectively, and teachers are increasingly trying to change that."

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What is the best proven way to learn? ›

10 Scientifically Proven Ways to Study Better in 2022
  • Interval studying. ...
  • Revise studied content earlier. ...
  • Test your memory by rewriting what you've learned. ...
  • Exercise before settling down to study. ...
  • Self-assessment is key. ...
  • Sleep well after studying. ...
  • Taking breaks is of paramount importance. ...
  • Learn with the aim of teaching.

What are the 7 strategies of how do you study effectively? ›

Learn how to study effectively with these ten tips.
  • Get organised. ...
  • Don't skip class! ...
  • Take notes. ...
  • Talk to your teacher & ask questions. ...
  • Space out your studying. ...
  • Create a study plan – & stick to it. ...
  • Don't just re-read but study. ...
  • Set up a quiet study space.

What are the five 5 suggested methods to improve study habits? ›

10 Steps to Improve Your Study Skills
  • Behavior modification can work for you. ...
  • Do not study more than an hour at a time without taking a break. ...
  • Separate the study of subjects that are alike. ...
  • Do not study when you are tired. ...
  • Prepare for your class at the best time. ...
  • Use the best note-taking system for you.

What are the 7 study skills? ›

Active listening, reading comprehension, note taking, stress management, time management, testing taking, and memorization are only a few of the topics addressed in our study skills guides for students.

What are the 5 main ways we learn? ›

There are five established learning styles: Visual, auditory, written, kinesthetic and multimodal. Kinesthetic learners have to do something to get it, while multimodal learners shift between different techniques.


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