by Anthony Guest-Scott, Academic Coordinator at the Student Academic Center
Mistake 1. Cramming
Cramming works for some simple recall purposes – it just doesn’t stick, lead to learning, or help much with more advanced thinking beyond sheer memorization.
Space out your study sessions over time. For example, if you’ve dedicated 2 hours to mastering a German lesson, you’re better off doing an hour today and another hour tomorrow. That space in between forces you to re-engage with the material and re-store it in your mind, an act that strengthens the connection.
Mistake 2. Repetition
We have great faith in repetition. Do the same kind of math problem over and over, and you’ll see progress in that moment. But this often leads us to think we know it better than we actually do. This is sometimes called the “fluency illusion.”
Mix it up. For example, instead of doing the same type of math problem repeatedly, jump around. This enhances transfer to new conditions, because you have to go to that extra step of asking yourself, “What kind of problem is this?”
Mistake 3. Looking Over It
Re-reading, highlighting, recopying notes. All feel productive, and there is some minimal benefit from doing it. These activities just take a lot of time, with very little payoff. You have to do something less passive – work harder and go further, and it will be stronger.
A. Test Yourself –
- Do practice tests.
- Answer the questions at the end of the chapter.
- When reading, stop to ask, “What was that about?”
- Flash cards – many great apps for these (Quizlet, etc.).
- Work the problems before looking at the answers
B. Elaborate –
- Use your 5 senses (visual, auditory, etc.) to create more connections. Mnemonics can be helpful here.
- Reorganize the material – take notes on your notes, turn an outline into a mindmap, chunk it up into different topics and themes.
- Constantly ask “Why is this so?,” “How does this work?” and “What makes this important?
- Be the teacher – explain it to yourself, friends, family, rubber duck…
- Create your own examples that are relevant to you and your experience.
Brown, Peter C., Henry L. Roediger III, Mark A. McDaniel. 2014. Make It Stick: The Science of
Successful Learning. Cambridge and London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Carey, Benedict. 2014. How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and
Why It Happens. New York: Random House.
Doyle, Terry, and Todd Zakrajsek. 2013. The New Science of Learning: How to Learn in
Harmony with Your Brain. Sterling, VA: Stylus.
Dunlosky, John, Katherine A. Rawso, Elizabeth J. Marsh, et al. 2013. “Improving Students’ Learning with Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions from Cognitive and Educational Psychology.” Psychological Science in the Public Interest 14(1):4-58.