by Dr. Jill Alban
As the chief learning specialist at Touro California, I mainly see students who would like tips for improving their study strategies. They are looking for ways to increase their test scores while trying to balance work-life issues (i.e., not spend 24/7 studying). When I first meet with a student, I ask her or him to describe their current study strategies. What I usually hear is that they highlight the text and read and reread their notes. This served them well in their undergraduate days, or at least well enough to get into programs at Touro.
I look for the holes in their study strategies using the large body of evidence-based research. Highlighting and rereading have been documented as two of the least effective strategies.
There is a large body of research dating to the 19th century on how to study most effectively. The three documented most successful strategies, the ones I teach, are: active learning, self-testing and spaced repetition.
Active learning involves talking to the text. This requires metacognition-the capacity to monitor your own learning-to know what you know and what you do not know. In order to talk to the text or actively learn, instead of highlighting, ask yourself what is important to remember, why is this important, then annotate in the textbook or slide margins. The annotation might state this is a key idea or this will be on the test.
Self testing requires asking yourself what you have learned. What do I remember from what I have just read? What are the most important points? Self testing underscores places where the student is uncertain or confused. Studies on self testing have found that the questions students miss and then correct are the questions that stay in their long term memory. Incorrect answers, when corrected using this strategy, are often the questions students answer correctly on exams.
To demonstrate how self testing works ask your students to draw a picture of a penny. Then have them compare their penny to an actual penny. What did they omit? Was Lincoln facing the wrong direction? By correcting their drawings they are reinforcing what they have learned. (If ever asked to draw a penny again they will most certainly draw it correctly.)
Spaced repetition was first described by Herman Ebbinghause in the 1800’s. He did in depth research on memory and found that new information is best recalled when learned and relearned over time. Ebbinghause emphasized the perils of procrastination and discussed the “forgetting curve.” A term used to describe his research on memory. He found the following: within 20 minutes of learning new information students can only recall about 60% of the information they just learned. By 9 hours, retention is less than 40%. By 10 days retention is less than 20%. I then reinforce that spending time each day studying for exams will greatly decrease the effects of the forgetting curve. Ebbinghause found that reviewing material in the first 24 hours after learning new information is the optimum time to reread notes and reduce the amount of knowledge that is forgotten.
Students that have learned these three strategies report higher test scores and a better work-life balance since they’re not wasting time with ineffecient techniques.
These are just a few tips for jumpstarting the new academic year. Let’s all welcome our entering classes.