Study Better, Not Longer

Assistant Principal
Rockford High School

Quite often, when working with both parents and students, you hear and perhaps you have experienced, “I studied for two hours and still didn’t perform well on the test!” The question that should then be posed is how did they study?

Students more times than not are quick to own up to and identify the fact that they did not study when poor results are yielded on an assessment. A student’s frustration does not stem from having not studied, but rather having spent time and energy on something and not experiencing success.

Although not always the case, when I ask students how they studied, the response tends to be, “I read my notes and the materials over and over, thought I knew the information, and still struggled on the test.”

Read, then reread habits may work in some cases, but as curriculum becomes more rigorous, students lose the ability to relate to the material on a personal level and retention becomes more of a process. In research that has been conducted by neuroscientists, cognitive scientists and educational psychologists, there is insight that can make studying more productive for students.

Spaced repetition is the first technique for a stronger relationship between a learner and the information being studied. Rather than sitting down for an extended period of time, research shows that students will recall information better if they study in smaller increments of time. My suggestion for students has been to study for 15 to 25 minutes and then get up, move around, do something that they want to do for 5 to 10 minutes, and then go back to studying.

In a recent article published in The New York Times, studies have shown that students who used this technique had double the retention rate compared to those peers who simply studied in large segments of time. Spaced repetition may still take as much time as studying in large increments, but it is more effective.

Above and beyond spaced repetition, students need to do something with the information at hand. Simply reading the notes/pages of the text is not the best approach to studying. Every time a memory is retrieved, it fortifies that specific thought and commits it to memory for improved retrieval at a later time. Rewriting information, creating flashcards, and quizzing yourself on information just covered are all avenues of better retaining information. As a student, the harder you work and the more you do to understand information, the better you will be able to retrieve that information. This extra effort indicates to the brain that the information is worth keeping.

Learning is a process and, as the content of curriculum in school grows more demanding, students will have to work harder to commit information to memory. Every learner is different as to which techniques will work best for studying information, but spaced repetition and doing something with the information above and beyond reading it are simple tips that any student can implement.

With a simple Internet search of “study tips” or “study techniques,” countless resources and ideas will be at your fingertips. Take the time, spread out your time allocated to studying, and find a technique that will work best for you.

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