Three Learning Experts Explain Their Study Techniques: The Secret Isn't Studying More, But Studying Better

  • Three experts specialized in the psychology of learning have teamed up to write a book with tips on how to study more efficiently.

  • Getting enough rest, taking notes by hand, or alternating study subjects are some of the keys to optimizing study sessions.

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As the academic year approaches its final stretch, exam time is upon us. Many students bid farewell to their social lives to immerse themselves in notes and books. The goal is unequivocal: passing all their exams and completing the course, or achieving the necessary grades to get into college.

Mark McDaniel, Henry Roediger, and Peter Brown are three experts in the psychology of learning and authors of Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. As discussed on the EssayShark podcast, the authors provide tips for enhancing the learning process, which will undoubtedly be helpful for students during exam time.

Implement what you've learned. One of the first tip's given by the experts is to put what you learn into practice. Remembering and using what you’re learning strengthens the learning process, and the knowledge becomes more deeply embedded in your brain. It’s more about understanding what you’re studying than memorizing your notes or textbook.

For instance, when learning a new language, it’s crucial to use the vocabulary you learn. The same applies to any subject. You can learn all the words in the dictionary in that language, but if you don’t use them or learn in what contexts they’re used, the words will end up abandoned and dusty like an old toy forgotten on a shelf.

Set up learning challenges for yourself. Just reading and re-reading your books or notes might help you pass a test, but it won’t help you truly learn and remember the material. Instead, actively practice retrieving information from your memory, which is a much more effective way to learn than just reviewing text.

Test your knowledge by taking practice exams to gauge your understanding of the study material. This active approach to learning will strengthen your understanding and make it easier to remember the information later. This method is similar to Professor Richard Feynman’s study technique, which consists of a four-step process, and will not only help you identify your strengths but also highlight the concepts you need to review.

Don't let your brain get bored. Avoid long study sessions focused on a single subject, and provide constant stimulation to keep the brain engaged and motivated to learn.

Instead of spending an entire afternoon on one subject, try alternating between different subjects. For example, if you have to study mathematics, history, and chemistry, organize your study session to cover a bit of each subject.

Let time pass and look back on what you’ve learned. Just like muscles are strengthened through repetitive movement, the brain enhances the process of recalling knowledge by accessing it regularly. While you may remember information the day after studying, it’s important to consider how well you’ll remember it two months from now.

Engaging in knowledge retrieval exercises helps prevent you from overdoing it in a last-minute study session and solidifies learning in your long-term memory.

Writing is powerful. Writing by hand is a real workout for the brain. It’s not just about synthesizing concepts and converting them into understandable language. According to a study by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, the process of writing by hand involves both motor and cognitive connections. This process activates creativity, improves concentration, and enhances memory functions.

This means that what you write by hand is retained more effectively in your brain than what you write with a keyboard or any other digital method.

Less coffee and more sleep. During exam season, study rooms and libraries often resemble the set of a Walking Dead episode, with exhausted students dragging themselves to the cafeteria for a caffeine fix. Big mistake.

Research from Cleveland’s Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing suggests that this approach is counterproductive. The brain regenerates during sleep, so depriving it of rest undermines effective studying. Rest is essential for consolidating knowledge and improving long-term memory capacity, which in turn allows for faster recall of learned subjects.

In fact, because the brain’s learning performance is enhanced when well-rested, experts recommend tackling the most challenging subjects during the first few hours of study.

Image | Yungkingz via Midjourney

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