Study Smarter

A new scientific study suggests ways to study science—and other subjects—more effectively. That’s good news for students staring down the prospect of mid-terms or finals. Psychologist John Dunlosky at Kent State University and his colleagues compared ten study strategies. Their report appears in the January 2013 issue of Psychological Science in the Public Interest.

“I was shocked that some strategies that students use a lot—such as rereading and highlighting—seem to provide minimal benefits to their learning and performance,” Dunlosky said when the report was released. In other words, buying dozens of colored highlighters won’t magically make you an A student.flashcardsSmall

So, what works better? The research team gave high marks to practice testing. Think flash cards and similar activities.

High marks also went to distributed practice. Basically, distributed practice is the opposite of cramming. Instead of trying to jam everything in right before a test or in one shot of class time and homework, the method spreads learning and practice with the subject matter out over time.

The plus side: You don’t necessarily need scads more study time to do better in school. Switching how and when you study can yield better grades, even if the total study time stays the same.

The downside: Nothing in the study supports osmosis as an effective study technique. I’d always hoped that as long as I had to spend the effort lugging textbooks around, the material would magically get absorbed in the process. Too bad.

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