By Sean Willett, April 6, 2016 —
Final exams are quickly approaching, and most students will be marking the occasion by studying as much as possible, for as long as possible. But I have bad news — chances are, you’re studying wrong. Scientific research has shown that many common studying techniques don’t actually help you remember anything. The silver lining? It’s not too late to change your habits and start studying smarter.
The Association for Psychological Science published a paper on learning methods, in which different studying techniques were assessed and rated for their usefulness to students. Of these techniques, highlighting and rereading notes were shown to be almost useless for retaining information.
Unfortunately, these are also the techniques used by most students. But rigorous testing has shown that they aren’t beneficial to student performance, and should usually be avoided altogether.
So what should students be doing instead? There are two study strategies shown to work across all age-groups, subjects and level of ability — practice testing and long-term studying.
The study found that students who quizzed themselves were able to better retain knowledge and more completely understand their course material. Additionally, students who spread their studying out over a longer period of time did better than those who studied everything at once, even if they studied for the same amount of time.
This means that if you want to ace your upcoming exams, you should throw out your highlighters and start asking yourself questions. Study groups are great for this, since you can take turns quizzing one another on the course material. Try to use full, detailed explanations when answering these questions. The more you explain, the more you’ll retain.
You should also start studying as soon as possible. Even if it’s just for a few minutes a night, the earlier you start, the more you’ll remember.
So close your notes, bust out the practice exams and start studying with science.