In the article, The Best Study Skills – Five Strategies Every Student Should Know, the author, Douglas Jobes, discusses the five best study skills from the book Your Memory: How It Works and How to Improve It by Dr. Kenneth Higbee.
Here, I will go through the most pertinent skills contained within, with a view to how this applies to learning and education.
1. Reduce interference
Interference occurs when information that has previously been learnt gets in the way of new material that is similar, causing students to forget.
Interference may lead to confusion when the time comes to recall the information in an exam. The brain mixes up the new information with closely related details that were learned before.
To minimise interference:
a) Overlearn the Material
The better you know the material, the less likely interference will occur. To overlearn, study far beyond the point where you can barely recall the information.
b) Make It Meaningful
Another way to reduce interference is to make the information meaningful. To best remember what you are learning, the material should make sense to you and be anchored to what you already know.
2. Space It Out
According to Dr. Higbee, it is best to space out your study sessions for an individual subject or exam.
It is better to study your Maths topic in three distinct one-hour sessions than on marathon three-hour session. Cramming is trying to learn all the material in one study session. This may get you through the test the next day, but it is a poor way to actually learn.
Spacing out your studying for an exam requires you to budget your time. If you want to lower your stress and gain an advantage on the test, begin studying days in advance if possible.
3. Use Whole and Part Learning
One of the most important parts of learning is to know when to break up learning the material, as opposed to studying everything all at once. The best approach is often a combination of both.
Below, I give three of the most powerful options:
a) Whole Method, with Extra Studying for Parts
With this approach you first use the whole method to obtain a solid grasp of the material. Then separate the more difficult sections for extra study and reinforcement.
b) Whole-Part-Whole Method
First, go through all the material a couple of times quickly. Then break up the material into logical parts, and study the parts separately. At the end, go back and review everything from beginning to end.
c) Progressive Part Method
With this approach, you break up the material into sections and begin studying the first part. Then you move on to studying the second part, but you study the first part again along with the second part. While studying the third part, you also review the first and second parts.
4. Recite It
The fourth study skill is recitation. It means repeating back to yourself, from memory (without looking), the information you have just learnt.
Besides improving your recall, reciting helps you avoid the illusions of the competence trap. Illusions of Competence describes a common scenario in which the student believes they have mastered a set of material, although they have not. Research supports the use of flash cards as an effective means of creating strong memories.
5. Use A Study System
A study system refers to any standard method of learning material.
One of the oldest study systems is the S-Q-3R acronym. This stands for:
Survey: this means surveying the material and grasping the essential framework only
Question: proceed again through the information you have just surveyed, this time posing a number of different questions about each topic or section. Do not attempt to answer the questions yet. Coming up with questions focuses your mind on the subject
Read: after surveying and posing questions, read the sections more carefully. On your first pass, read (out loud) straight through without taking notes or trying to memorise the material. On subsequent passes, try to answer the questions posed in Step 2. Take notes, make flashcards and make lists and outlines
Recite: try recalling the material from memory without looking at your notes or textbook. Spend at least half your study time reciting
Review: by this point, you should have a solid grasp of the material. The review consists of multiple iterations of reciting/self-testing. The more you review the information before your exam, spaced out over hours or days if possible, the better you will likely remember the material.
These methods can be implemented for any test, subject or level and will hopefully serve as a useful tool for you alongside your or your student’s studies.