Every student wants their study session to be as productive as possible, but too many students waste their study time on less-than-effective strategies for understanding and retaining information. Especially when trying to balance an advanced degree program and other aspects of life, like family and work, students need to be certain that the tactics they are using in their study sessions are having the most impact. To that end, here are a few study strategies supported by psychology research, so students can be confident that they are making the most of their study time:
Repeated Spaced Retrieval
Memorization is not always the best option for learning new information, but sometimes it cannot be avoided. Even in advanced education, like an online master’s in psychology, students often need to devote time to rote memorization of important terminology. When students need to commit something to memory, the absolute best method is repeated spaced retrieval practice.
This study strategy involves studying until a student has remembered a term several times within a certain time limit. As opposed to more simple techniques, which might require the student to recall a term only once, this technique ensures that a term and its meaning are fully absorbed and available for use by the student.
The easiest way to practice repeated spaced retrieval is with flashcards. As a student shuffles through the flashcards, terms that are immediately recalled are sorted into a different stack from terms that are not remembered. Those that have been recalled will be reviewed again in five minutes, and if they are recalled again, they can be reviewed again in 10 minutes, then 15 minutes. Any time a term is forgotten, it is placed in the first stack, which is continuously shuffled through. A student should study in 30-minute increments, and terms in the 15-minute stack that are recalled at the end can be removed from the exercise, as they have been successfully memorized.
Most people are visual learners, meaning they are more successful at understanding concepts when they can see those concepts. Unfortunately, not all concepts involve visual elements. The solution, then, is concept mapping, which helps students create visual representations of all sorts of information to facilitate comprehension. To create a concept map, students write or draw images to represent ideas, and then they link different ideas together with arrows or other symbols to accurately represent relationships between concepts.
It is relatively common practice to take notes from lectures or textbooks with concept mapping, but this is not the most effective application of this study strategy. Instead, students should try to draw concept maps when they are not directly consulting their study resources. By calling upon their memory to create the content map, students before more proficient in their understanding of the concepts they are striving to learn. One study found that those who concept mapped with their textbooks closed performed better on tests weeks later than those who concept mapped while consulting their notes.
Few students relish examinations, which tend to be major sources of stress. However, psychology research suggests that the more students test themselves on the knowledge they have gained, the more likely they are to retain that knowledge in the future. It is not necessary for professors to issue quiz after quiz to keep their students learning; rather, students should have access to quizzes they can use during and after study sessions to track their individual progress in the course. If a professor does not offer quizzes, students might find quiz materials in their textbooks, or they can draft their own quizzes before they launch into a study session.
Most students are enrolled in more than one course at a time, and because there are only 24 hours in a day, many students must schedule their study sessions to ensure they have enough time to cover material from all of their courses. To account for this, students might try the practice of interleaving, or studying material from multiple courses at the same time. Psychologists recommend grouping similar courses together into one study block and continuing to study the same courses in the same chunks of time throughout the week. The result is built-in spacing while studying, so the student has brief periods of time in which they can practice recalling learned information while they absorb something new.
Students should always study using the methods that make the most sense for them. If none of the above strategies seem to improve a student’s performance inside and outside the classroom, then they should not force themselves to learn using these techniques. Psychology provides some insight into how many people function, but it is never a strict rule for everyone to follow. Individual students should experiment to find the study strategies that bring them success.