Over the years, researchers have attempted to classify study techniques and identify the ones that are most optimal for learners. Unfortunately, it’s been hard for researchers to pinpoint which specific strategies are the best. This makes sense when we think about how different we all are as learners. Nevertheless, study behaviors are linked to academic performance.
Study behaviors enable us to acquire, organize, remember and use information. These behaviors include selecting how and where to study, taking good notes, time management, and self-testing. Researchers have divided study behaviors into four main categories:
✦ cognitive-based (e.g., studying with a friend),
✦ metacognitive (e.g., taking quizzes to test self-knowledge),
✦ repetition-based (e.g., flashcards) and
✦ procedural (e.g., time management).
Here are some suggestions, based on empirical research that can help you improve your study behaviors.
Consider Healthy Behaviours
Let’s be honest. Self-care needs to come first. You’re not helping yourself if you’re not moving, eating or sleeping properly. Ask yourself whether you get enough sleep, how much sleep you get the night before a test, and if you are getting enough exercise and eating properly.
Sleep greatly affects memory formation.
Assess How You Have Been Studying
Ask yourself the following questions and think about what areas you can improve upon.
- Do I read the assigned chapters before my tests?
- Do I read them before my classes, after, or just before my tests?
- How much time do I spend on studying for tests?
- Do I read my assigned chapters once or more than once?
Remember repetition influences memory formation and recall.
Assess Your Note-Taking Skills
Ask yourself the following:
- Do I take good notes?
- Do I review my notes after class to correct errors?
Also, consider the quality of your notes and consider improvements (e.g., leave more space, use topic headings, and write down examples used by your instructor).
Think About How Much You “Know” the Material
There is a difference between going over material to the point where you “recognize” the material as familiar and deeply understanding it. Students often think they know material if the material is right in front of them. Can you apply the concepts you have learned? Can you answer questions if a friend asked you about the concepts?
Other Research Supported Strategies
Research relating to educational achievement and study techniques show that the following strategies are effective:
- Schedule daily studying and homework time
- Make lists of what you need to accomplish during studying
- Put off pleasurable events until work is completed
- Read the textbook provided
- Review the class textbook/assignments before class
- Create mnemonics and vivid mental images of what you’re learning
- Memorize through repetition
- Generate examples to apply the concepts
- Answer chapter review questions
Things to Avoid
- Spending too much time on key terms or summaries and paying less attention to other behaviors (like completing review questions)
- Highlighting too much text—you need to know what the important information is
- Using chapter review questions as additional content to study instead of using them to test your knowledge
- “Studying with a friend” should only involve testing one other, so don’t waste time working on review questions or reviewing notes with friends
Give Yourself Time
No specific strategy will work all of the time, for all students, in all classes. Different exams call for different strategies. Your study skills will not improve overnight. Be patient with yourself and keep working on them.