Before a big test, students tend to spend hours re-reading and highlighting their notes, hoping to absorb all the information. And while the method may seem effective, it doesn’t allow the information to fully stick, says Henry L. Roediger, a cognitive psychologist who focuses on human learning and memory.
Instead, he advises, students should be engaging in more-active methods of learning.
Roediger walked us through of his favorite tips for making the most of your study sessions.
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Switch it up
While students often study the same thing over and over before a test, the truth is, switching between subjects is actually more effective, says Roediger. Rather than designate one day for math, one for science and another for history, he suggests including all three into the same session. “This kind of training produces slower learning, but it’s much more durable,” he explains. “You’ll still know the information months later.”
Plus, repetition often gives students a false sense of understanding and leaves them ill-equipped to answer questions out of context. “If you’re doing one kind of math problem over and over, you get good at that kind of problem, but you often fail to recognize the problem itself.” In the end, he adds, “a big part of learning is recognizing what kind of situation you’re in before you can apply the correct answer.”
“People normally think of learning as getting information into memory — so having a storehouse of knowledge — but another big part is being able to bring the concept you learned back into memory from your long term knowledge,” says Roediger.
According to Roediger, the best way to do this is by constantly testing yourself and actively reflecting. If you’re taking a psychology course and just learned about cognitive dissonance, you should be engaging in your own inner monologue, he explains. Ask yourself: “What does this mean?” “How would I use this concept?” “What’s a practical example from my own life?” Doing this not only challenges you to practice retrieving information from memory, but it also allows you to assess what you’ve successfully absorbed.
Take notes by hand
When using a computer to take notes, students tend to record information as if they were taking dictation. Roediger calls this: “mindless typing.” And while it may help you get down the most information, “you remember it better and it’s more meaningful to you if you take notes by hand.” By being unable to get every single word down by hand, students are ultimately forced to think harder, synthesize the information and formulate it into their own words, which allows it to truly seep into their memory.