Advanced Study Skills

While there are many ways to study, only some will work best for you. Try as many study strategies as possible. Find a few that you like and that feel most productive. After you know what works well for you, try using multiple strategies at once. For example: distributed practice, interleaving, and chunking work well together. All of this will help you find ways to optimise your study time.

This video describes some ways to study more efficiently: Metacognition by Dr. Sandra Mcguire

You can take a study habit self-assessment here: Which Study Habits Can You Improve?

Try this for deep study: The Three-Step Study Method

On this page:

  • Distributed Practice
  • Retrieval Practice
  • Interleaving
  • Learning Styles
  • References and Further Reading

Distributed Practice

Also known as spaced practice, Distributed Practice is really just about reviewing materials repeatedly over several days. Spacing out your review sessions will help train your brain to recall the information over time. Cramming will help you learn enough to pass a test, but distributed practice will help you retain the information for the long haul (Bown, McDaniel, & Roediger, 2014, p. 31).

Reminder theory also suggests that increasing the interval of time between reviews can actually help, and that “expanding-interval retrieval schedules should prove superior for long-term retention than constant-interval schedules” (Benjamin & Tullis, 2010).

Basically, your practice sessions should be closer together at first, and then longer and longer apart.

Be sure your information is correct before you start studying. According to Benjamin & Tullis (2010), “It is the quality of the original encoding that is particularly important for successful acquisition. If one initially learns a poor golf swing, for example, then the many later practice opportunities will serve to reinforce those bad habits, not correct them.” As you set up to start quizzing and practicing, take a moment to ensure that you truly understand the material. Ask a trusted peer or the instructor for confirmation if you are unsure.

Distributed Practice Tips:

  • Make sure the information you want to practice is correct.
  • Plan your practice sessions over several days. Give yourself plenty of time between sessions to process the information.
  • Don’t study too long at each session. Give yourself breaks.
  • You’ll need to experiment to find the best interval between sessions. Do you start with an hour between sessions? A day? Plan time to figure out what works best for you.
  • Consider increasing interval time between sessions. If you start with an hour interval, expand to a few hours, then a day, then a few days. If you start to forget too much, reduce the interval and try again.
  • Review the video for more information.

Retrieval Practice

Retrieval Practice simply means that you practice retrieving information. In other words: you self quiz. A lot of students study by re-reading or reviewing lectures and textbooks. That repetition can be good, but how do you know it is sticking? You’re going to have to demonstrate your knowledge at some point, and it's better to see how much you retain ahead of time than when you’re actually in a testing situation.

In fact, research shows that practice retrieving that material in a low-stakes self-quiz can help you learn more in a shorter amount of time. Testing as an active element of learning is more effective than studying the factual knowledge repeatedly (Augustin, 2014). Further, research shows that frequent, low-stakes, self-testing can boost your test performance by as much as 11% in one week (Brown, McDaniel, & Roediger, 2014, p. 31).

Retrieval Practice Tips:

  • First, make sure you understand the material. Ask your peers and the instructor for clarification if you are unsure.
  • Quiz yourself in different ways:
    • Paraphrase lecture and study material soon after the session.
    • Create a quiz or take practice quizzes.
    • Make flashcards or self-test using Cornell Style notes (see Note Taking).
  • Push yourself to remember. Don't give up too fast. The act of straining to remember helps train your brain to perform.
  • Repeat self-testing a few times to lock the information in.
  • Review the video for more information. 

Interleaving

Interleaved practice is all about switching your study between a few different topics during a single study session. The default for study sessions is usually to block your study: you review all of one topic or concept before moving on to the next. However, research shows that interleaving has several benefits. Rohrer (2012) found that when topics are interleaved, students learn to make connections between different concepts. Interleaving also helps learners distinguish between concepts that are similar. And, students internalize strategies and approaches to different types of problems.

As a consequence, students who interleave their study tend to do better on exams because they have had practice in switching between several topics and concepts.

Dr. Rohrer (2015) explains interleaving in detail in the video.

Best practices for Interleaving include:

  • Manage your time--Decide the order of concepts to be studied in advance.
  • Don't spend too long on one concept, but make sure you have a basic understanding of each concept before you move onto the next.
  • Switch up the order the next time you study these same concepts together.

Learning Styles

You probably have some idea what learning styles are. You may have even taken a learning style quiz in high school. Learning style inventories have been popular for quite a while. The idea is that if a student understands how they best learn (their “learning preference”), they can learn material quickly and easily. Most learning style inventories stress adhering to one of several sensory based categories, usually some variation on visual, auditory, or kinesthetic.

Learning styles are controversial. Nancy Chick (2018) of the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching and Learning details that controversy here: Learning Styles

In short, Chick states that while there are thousands of tests and resources for using learning styles, “there is no evidence to support the idea that matching activities to one’s learning style improves learning.”

However, there is some advantage in knowing that different learning styles exist. It may be that coursework for a particular subject might necessarily favor one learning style over another. For example, clinical courses would favor more kinesthetic learning through hands-on training. As a student, you’ll probably have to use all the learning styles, so you might want to have an understanding of the differences, and how to use each learning style to your advantage as you study. One quick way to do that is to take a free learning style test.

A simple learning style test can be found here: What's Your Learning Style?

REFERENCES

Augustin, M. (2014). How to Learn Effectively in Medical School: Test Yourself, Learn Actively, and Repeat in Intervals. Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 87, 207-212.

Benjamin, A. S., & Tullis, J. (2010). What makes distributed practice effective? Cognitive Psychology,61(3), 228-247. Retrieved June 20, 2018, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010028510000332?via%3Dihub#aep-section-id30

Brown, P. C., McDaniel, M. A., & Roediger, H. L. (2014). Make it stick: The science of successful learning. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press.

Chick, N. (2018, May 07). Learning Styles. Retrieved July 15, 2018, from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/learning-styles-preferences/

Rohrer, D. (2012). Interleaving helps students distinguish among similar concepts. Educational Psychology Review, 24, 355-367.

Rohrer, D. (2015, December 31). The Benefits of Interleaved Practice. Retrieved July 22, 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wJEB0cEUok

Study Strategies: Retrieval Practice. (2016, September 19). Retrieved May 24, 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pjrqc6UMDKM&feature=youtu.be

Study Strategies: Spaced Practice. (2016, September 19). Retrieved May 24, 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=3WJYp98eys8 

Further Reading

Blasiman, R. N., (2017). Distributed concept reviews improve exam performance. Teaching of Psychology, 44 (1), 46-50.

Gerbier, E., & Toppino, T. (2015). The effect of distributed practice: Neuroscience, cognition, and education. Trends in Neuroscience and Education,4(3), 49-59. Retrieved August 01, 2018, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211949315000022.

Roediger, H. L., & Karpicke, J. D. (2006). Test-enhanced learning: Taking memory tests improves long-term retention. Psychological Science,17(3), 249-255. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01693.x

Smith A. M., Floerke, V. A., & Thomas A. K. (2016). Retrieval practice protects memory against acute stress. Science, 354 (6315), 1046-1048.