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This post on studying techniques is a bit of a departure from the norm – but we’re approaching the time of year when exams begin to loom on the horizon and studying techniques are another area of instruction that we will help our students with. If you need your EdTech fix, then there will be apps, websites and software that can help with these and I’ll mention them as appropriate as we go through our research backed studying techniques.
Knowing and understanding studying techniques is important. Learning how to study is a skill that is often assumed that pupils know who to do, but most people imagine that it is long hours of studying that is the best path to being a top student. Research shows that the highly successful students actually spend less time studying than their peers do – but they study more effectively.
As teachers, exam preparation is a hot topic – many jump to the “teaching to the test” mantra as if that doesn’t happen in real life – if we apply this logically, does anyone study architectural design for a Biology exam? Of course not – why would you? You study what you’re going to be tested on! The struggle comes when the time given to study any topic is less than what is required, coupled with too much content to be taught, is a surefire recipe for stress for both teacher and student.
As teachers, we can help our students to learn to more effectively use the time they spend studying by sharing research-proven techniques. This post will look at five techniques that are backed by the research.
Let’s go!

Ineffective Learning Techniques

person behind books with poor studying techniques
Before we look at effective studying techniques, let’s take a look at the techniques that many of us might use, or recommend to our students without realising their negative impact. I know my parents equated some of these with productivity, but this was back in the 90’s, so we can’t judge too harshly. Many students use studying techniques that are time consuming and give the illusion of mastery. I’ve spoken to many parents in this current academic year who will say that they’re unclear why their son/daughter under-performed because they were always at their books/computer. Presence does not equal productivity, but it’s what they knew (like me) from their time in school, being guided by their parents also.
Students also become familiar with ideas and information in preparation for a test, but forget it a week later because their learning techniques never led to long-term learning. There is evidence to suggest that cramming works for boys better than girls, but even so, this style of learning does not have any long-term benefits to recall, mastery or genuine learning.

There are several ineffective learning techniques that can hinder your ability to learn and retain information. Here are some examples:

  1. Rereading: Simply rereading notes or textbooks without any active engagement with the material can be ineffective because it doesn’t engage your brain in meaningful ways.
  2. Highlighting: Highlighting can be a useful tool, but it can also be overused. Simply highlighting passages without actively engaging with the material won’t help you retain the information.
  3. Multitasking: Trying to study while watching TV, scrolling through social media, or doing other activities can decrease your ability to focus and retain information.
  4. Passive learning: Passive learning, such as listening to a lecture or watching a video, can be effective when combined with active learning techniques. However, if you’re not actively engaging with the material, you may not retain as much information.
  5. Cramming: Cramming may help you memorise information in the short-term, but it’s not an effective way to learn and retain information in the long-term.
  6. Lack of sleep: Lack of sleep can affect your ability to focus and retain information, making it harder for you to learn effectively.

It’s important to recognise ineffective learning techniques so that you can avoid them and use more effective learning strategies to improve your learning and retention of information.

studying techniques

Study Less, With Greater Intensity

In our society with rampant social media and digital distractions, many students – and adults also – do a lot of what we call ‘multitasking’. I’m not a fan of the idea of multitasking at all – I simply don’t believe it exists. There is no such thing, or evidential proof of successful multitasking, because much of the time spent is wasted on context switching, where the brain has to restart and refocus. It takes time for the brain to do this, so there in reality we do two (or more) jobs poorly and in a longer time, rather than focusing on the one task and completing it to a good standard.
Consider the formula “work accomplished = intensity of focus X time spent.” A student who is studying for Biology but also checks their messages and scrolls through Instagram has a low intensity of focus—let’s put it at 3. Even though they spends 3 hours ‘studying,’ the work accomplished is only a 9.
On the other hand, another student who takes steps to focus solely on Biology has a high-intensity of focus—say, a 10. Even if they only spends 1 hour studying, they will have accomplished more than their distracted classmate did in 3 hours.

Highly successful students have generally learned to avoid multitasking – or to be more capable of placing their phone in a different location to where they study. Instead of spending a lot of time doing low-intensity work with numerous distractions, these students work for shorter periods at higher intensity, without any distractions from email, social media, etc. Their time spent studying is more effective and leads to greater learning gains.

Here are some tips on how to study less but with greater intensity:

  1. Set clear goals: Define what you want to achieve in each study session. Setting specific goals will help you stay focused and motivated.
  2. Focus on the most important material: Identify the most important concepts, theories, and ideas that you need to understand for the exam or assignment. Focus on these areas and avoid wasting time on less relevant information.
  3. Use active learning techniques: Engage in active learning techniques like summarising, outlining, and self-testing. These techniques are more effective than passive reading and help you retain information better.
  4. Manage your time: Use time management techniques like the Pomodoro method or time blocking to make the most of your study sessions. Avoid multitasking and eliminate distractions.
  5. Take breaks: Taking regular breaks can actually help you study more effectively. Take a short break every 45 minutes or so to rest your mind and recharge your energy.
  6. Stay organised: Keep your notes and study materials organised and in one place. This will help you stay focused and save time when you need to review your notes.
  7. Use technology: Use apps, online resources, and other technology to help you study more efficiently. For example, use flashcards apps to memorise key terms, or use online tools to create interactive study guides.

By implementing these tips, you can study less, but with greater intensity, allowing you to retain information better and improve your overall academic performance.

High-Intensity Study Habits

Researchers have found that the following techniques increase sustainable learning and retention when incorporated in students’ daily study habits. These techniques are difficult and require effort, and they slow down learning. Initially the learning gains seem to be smaller than with some ineffective practices. However, these techniques lead to long-term mastery.
Research-backed studying techniques are those that have been shown to be effective in numerous studies and have been proven to improve learning and retention of information. Here are some examples:
  1. Spaced repetition: Spaced repetition involves reviewing material at intervals, gradually increasing the time between reviews. This technique has been shown to improve long-term retention of information.
  2. Retrieval practice: Retrieval practice involves recalling information from memory, rather than simply reviewing notes or textbooks. This technique has been shown to improve long-term retention of information.
  3. Interleaving: Interleaving involves studying different topics or skills in a random order, rather than studying one topic at a time. This technique has been shown to improve long-term retention and the ability to apply knowledge to new situations.
  4. Elaboration: Elaboration involves explaining or summarising information in your own words, making connections between different pieces of information, or relating new information to something you already know. This technique has been shown to improve understanding and retention of information.
  5. Dual coding: Dual coding involves combining visual and verbal information, such as creating diagrams or mind maps to represent concepts or information. This technique has been shown to improve understanding and retention of information.
  6. Active learning: Active learning techniques involve actively engaging with the material, such as summarising, outlining, and self-testing. These techniques have been shown to improve understanding and retention of information.

By using research-backed studying techniques, you can optimise your study time and improve your ability to learn and retain information effectively.

Spaced Repetition

Spaced repetition is a study technique that involves reviewing information at gradually increasing intervals to improve long-term retention. The idea is to review information multiple times, with increasing intervals between each review, to ensure that the information is retained in your long-term memory.

The intervals between reviews are based on the forgetting curve, which shows that we tend to forget information rapidly in the first few hours or days after learning it, but then forget more slowly over time. By reviewing the information at strategic intervals, spaced repetition helps to strengthen the connections in the brain and improve long-term retention.

Spaced repetition can be applied to any type of material, such as vocabulary words, historical facts, or mathematical formulas. The key is to review the material at the appropriate intervals to ensure that it is retained in your long-term memory.

There are many tools and apps available that use spaced repetition algorithms to help you study more effectively. These tools can help you optimise your study time and improve your ability to learn and retain information over the long-term.

Retrieval Practice

Retrieval practice is a study technique that involves recalling information from memory, rather than simply reviewing notes or textbooks. The idea is to actively retrieve information from memory, which strengthens the connections in the brain and improves long-term retention.

Retrieval practice can take many forms, such as self-testing, practice quizzes, or flashcards. The key is to actively recall information from memory, rather than simply reviewing it passively.

Research has shown that retrieval practice is an effective study technique that improves long-term retention of information. By actively recalling information from memory, you are strengthening the connections in the brain and improving your ability to retrieve that information in the future.

Retrieval practice can be applied to any type of material, such as vocabulary words, historical facts, or mathematical formulas. The key is to practice retrieving the information from memory in a variety of contexts, to strengthen the connections in the brain and improve long-term retention. Tools like Flipgrid, Kahoot!, and Quizlet will assist with retrieval practice in study.

Overall, retrieval practice is a powerful study technique that can help you learn and retain information more effectively, and is often used in combination with other effective study techniques such as spaced repetition and active learning.

Interleaving

Interleaving is a study technique that involves mixing different types of problems or topics together, rather than studying them in separate blocks. The idea is to practice a variety of skills or concepts in a random order, rather than practicing one skill or concept at a time.

For example, if you were studying for a maths exam, you might practice solving different types of problems (such as algebra, geometry, and trigonometry) in a random order, rather than practicing one type of problem at a time.

Research has shown that interleaving is an effective study technique that improves long-term retention of information and the ability to apply knowledge to new situations. By practicing a variety of skills or concepts in a random order, you are forcing your brain to make connections between the different types of problems or topics, which strengthens the neural connections in the brain and improves your ability to apply that knowledge to new situations.

Interleaving can be applied to any type of material, such as vocabulary words, historical facts, or scientific concepts. The key is to practice a variety of skills or concepts in a random order, rather than studying them in separate blocks. EdTech tools like Quizlet, Kahoot!, and Quizziz will aid in practising interleaving in study.

Overall, interleaving is a powerful study technique that can help you learn and retain information more effectively, and is often used in combination with other effective study techniques such as spaced repetition and active learning.

Elaboration

Elaboration is a study technique that involves explaining or summarising information in your own words, making connections between different pieces of information, or relating new information to something you already know. The idea is to engage with the material at a deeper level, which improves understanding and retention of information.

For example, if you were studying a historical event, you might summarise the key events in your own words, make connections between the different events, or relate the events to something you already know about the time period or historical context.

Research has shown that elaboration is an effective study technique that improves long-term retention of information. By engaging with the material at a deeper level, you are strengthening the connections in the brain and improving your ability to retrieve and apply that information in the future.

Elaboration can be applied to any type of material, such as vocabulary words, historical facts, or scientific concepts. The key is to engage with the material at a deeper level, by summarising, making connections, and relating the information to something you already know.

Overall, elaboration is a powerful study technique that can help you learn and retain information more effectively, and is often used in combination with other effective study techniques such as spaced repetition and active learning.

Dual coding

Dual coding is a study technique that involves combining visual and verbal information to improve learning and retention. The idea is to create mental images that represent the material being studied, which can help to strengthen the connections in the brain and improve long-term retention of information.

For example, if you were studying a scientific concept, you might create a diagram or illustration that represents the key elements of the concept, and then label the diagram with verbal descriptions of each element.

Research has shown that dual coding is an effective study technique that improves long-term retention of information. By combining visual and verbal information, you are engaging different parts of the brain and creating more connections between the different pieces of information, which can improve understanding and retention.

Dual coding can be applied to any type of material, such as vocabulary words, historical facts, or mathematical formulas. The key is to create mental images that represent the material being studied, and to combine those images with verbal descriptions of the material.

Overall, dual coding is a powerful study technique that can help you learn and retain information more effectively, and is often used in combination with other effective study techniques such as spaced repetition and active learning.

Active learning

Active learning is a study technique that involves engaging with the material being studied in a more active and participatory way, rather than simply passively reading or listening to information. The idea is to actively engage with the material through a variety of activities, which can improve understanding and retention of information.

Active learning can take many forms, such as:

  • Taking notes and summarising information in your own words
  • Asking questions and seeking answers to those questions
  • Discussing the material with others
  • Applying the material to real-life situations or problems
  • Solving problems or completing activities that require the use of the material being studied
  • Creating summaries, concept maps, or other visual representations of the material.

Research has shown that active learning is an effective study technique that improves long-term retention of information. By actively engaging with the material, you are strengthening the connections in the brain and improving your ability to retrieve and apply that information in the future.

Active learning can be applied to any type of material, such as vocabulary words, historical facts, or scientific concepts. The key is to engage with the material in a more active and participatory way, rather than simply passively reading or listening to information.

Overall, active learning is a powerful study technique that can help you learn and retain information more effectively, and is often used in combination with other effective study techniques such as spaced repetition and elaboration.

Final Thoughts

man thinking about studying techniques

A frequent idea I pitch to my students across all classes, is the idea to ‘work smarter, not harder.’ This is what we have here in this post – the methods to present to our students about studying techniques and how to improve, make more efficient and receive greater rewards by learning revision content in a deeper, more thorough and better retained knowledge. Many of these methods work together, so there is no one correct answer, but rather many paths leading our students to understand and retain the knowledge better.

Teaching our students studying techniques is part of our job that will equip students for life and as a hopeful side-effect, by helping them to prepare better for exams, they can feel more confident and less anxious about the time of year that we’re not too far away from.

If you’ve enjoyed any of my posts, please share them on your social feeds, comment, follow and all the other stuff you know I’d like you to do to help me to help teachers.

Until next time.

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