Studying styles and efficiency

During exam week, many students suddenly wish they had the super power of a photographic memory. That’s some Tony Stark-level genius, and for the most part found in comic books and their adapted blockbusters.

Instead, students find themselves frantically trying to remember their lesson from last week or asking “What’s the date today?” as they start writing the test.

Many students find a studying method that works for them, but before you think you have it figured out—drop that highlighter!

A 2013 study by Kent State University evaluated the most common methods of studying and found that some time-honoured techniques are less effective than alternative approaches.

Summarization, highlighting, keyword mnemonics and rereading scored the lowest rating, which are among the most common techniques used by students.

The report assessed 10 studying habits based on four factors: learning conditions, student characteristics, materials and criterion tasks.

Learning conditions mean if the student can practice alone or if a group is needed.

Student characteristics include age, aptitude and previous knowledge.

Materials range from simpler concepts to difficult mathematical or scientific theories.

And criterion tasks account for the difference in each student’s ability to memorize, process information and problem solve.

Practice testing and distributive practice—studying the same material consistently over a scheduled period of time—ranked above all other methods.

Eric Gustavsen, ESL specialist advisor at the Student Academic Learning Services Centre, was “a bit surprised” that mnemonics made the list of least effective methods, but agreed distributive practice is a great way to go for most students.

“We know that constant recycling and reviewing is really the key because to get things from short term memory into long term memory is a process that you have to be actively engaged in,” Gustavsen said.

Gustavsen’s point is consistent with the study’s findings that concluded distributive learning promotes long-term retention while cramming only benefits students in the short term.

“Cramming at the end is not effective because you’re revisiting information you haven’t seen for awhile,” Gustavsen added. “It’s like looking at it for the first time.”

Every student is different when it comes to how they learn and retain information. Although it seems working a little harder throughout the semester scores the grade over cramming during exam time.