Which study strategies make the grade? Popular strategies found ineffective

January 10, 2013

Students everywhere, put down those highlighters and pick up some flashcards! Some of the most popular study strategies—such as highlighting and even rereading—don't show much promise for improving student learning, according to a new report published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

In the report, John Dunlosky of Kent State University and a team of distinguished psychological review the scientific evidence for ten learning techniques commonly used by .

"Schools and parents spend a great deal of on technology and programs to improve , even though evidence often isn't available to firmly establish that they work," says Dunlosky. "We wanted to take a comprehensive look at promising strategies now, in order to direct teachers, students and to the strategies that are effective, yet underused."

Based on the available evidence, the researchers provide recommendations about the applicability and usefulness of each technique.

While the ten learning techniques vary widely in effectiveness, two strategies—practice testing and distributed practice—made the grade, receiving the highest overall utility rating.

Most students are probably familiar with practice testing, having used or answered the questions at the end of a textbook chapter. Students who prefer last-minute cram sessions, however, may not be as familiar with the idea of distributed practice.

Dunlosky and colleagues report that spreading out your studying over time and quizzing yourself on material before the big test are highly effective learning strategies. Both techniques have been shown to boost students' performance across many different kinds of tests, and their effectiveness has been repeatedly demonstrated for students of all ages.

In contrast, five of the techniques received a low utility rating from the researchers. Notably, these techniques are some of the most common learning strategies used by students, including summarization, highlighting and underlining, and rereading.

"I was shocked that some strategies that students use a lot—such as rereading and highlighting—seem to provide minimal benefits to their learning and performance. By just replacing rereading with delayed retrieval practice, students would benefit," says Dunlosky.

So why don't they? Why aren't students and teachers using the learning strategies that have been shown to be effective and inexpensive?

Dunlosky and colleagues found that the answer may have to do with how future teachers are taught.

"These strategies are largely overlooked in the educational psychology textbooks that beginning teachers read, so they don't get a good introduction to them or how to use them while teaching," Dunlosky explains. As a result, teachers are less likely to fully exploit some of these easy-to-use and effective techniques.

To help address this gap, the researchers organized their report in distinct modules, so that teachers can quickly decide whether each technique will potentially benefit his or her students and researchers can easily set an agenda on what we still need to know about the efficacy of these strategies.

"The learning techniques described in this monograph will not be a panacea for improving achievement for all students, and perhaps obviously, they will benefit only students who are motivated and capable of using them," Dunlosky and colleagues note. "Nevertheless, when used properly, we suspect that they will produce meaningful gains in performance in the classroom, on achievement tests, and on many tasks encountered across the life span."

Explore further: Do middle-school students understand how well they actually learn?

More information: The report, "Improving Students' Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology," is published in the January 2013 issue of Psychological Science in the Public Interest. www.psychologicalscience.org/i … ning-techniques.html

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1.5 / 5 (2) Jan 10, 2013
You know - I hate the military, but there's a slogan out there that fits very much with how to improve your performance in education systems:

"train the way you fight, fight the way you train"

If you're going to be tested then put yourself in a testing situation that mirrors the real one as closely as possible (e.g. using flashcards, as mentioned)
Don't cheat yourself by having the answer within reach or looking something up partway through a problem and then doing the rest. Getting it right on the second try is also no good. You won't have materials within reach on the test, nor will you have two tries.

And this goes for any test (e.g. driving test. In that case: If you don't know the answer immediately then you should consider that a 'fail'. Traffic doesn't allow you to wrack your brain for a couple of minutes before you remember what a certain sign means)
1.6 / 5 (7) Jan 10, 2013
You know - I hate the military...

Yah, pretty much stopped reading right there. Next time you meet one of us, why don't you drop to your knees and thank him for putting his life on the line to guarantee your right to hate him out loud.

Unless it's me. Then run.
2.2 / 5 (6) Jan 10, 2013
But all the techniques being questioned nopw were, in their time, either "validated" by, advocated by or not criticized by "scientists" and "experts". And, rememebr the credo of "science", "'scientists' and 'experts' never lie and are always right". Yet, now, essentially on schedule, those "scientists" are being overriden by other "scientists" with new recommendations. And these must be taken as "right". Note, though, that these new recommendations are based on "the best available evidence" for the techniques listed, although the "researchers" claim evidence "isn't available to firmly establish that they work". Yet, in the face of that lack of evidence, they were touted by "scientists" and "experts". Why are these "scientists" and "experts" to be any more trusted? Also, the techniques look like rote and are dealing with standards students are required to know. "Scientists" and "experts" also tell us, "It's better that students ask the right question than answer it."
3.5 / 5 (4) Jan 10, 2013
Next time you meet one of us, why don't you drop to your knees and thank him for putting his life on the line to guarantee your right to hate him out loud.

Drop to my knees for a paid (and willing) hitman who has checked his brain out to other people? Someone who willingly will do what he's told - no matter what - because he's too dumb to think for himself?

That'll be the day.

3 / 5 (8) Jan 10, 2013
...drop to your knees and thank him for putting his life on the line to guarantee your right to hate him out loud.

I am ex-military, but really hate it when people "thank" me for my "service."

The military puts its lives on the line for the profit of a few, not for our "freedom:"

"Had secrecy been outlawed as far as war negotiations were concerned, and had the press been invited to be present at that conference, or had radio been available to broadcast the proceedings, America never would have entered the World War (I). But this conference, like all war discussions, was shrouded in utmost secrecy. When our boys were sent off to war they were told it was a "war to make the world safe for democracy" and a "war to end all wars."

Well, eighteen years after, the world has less of democracy than it had then." - Major General Smedley Butler "War Is A Racket"


1 / 5 (1) Jan 10, 2013
Most excellent points @antialias and @Claudius
For me Melle Mel told it best: https://www.youtu...Yjlwbi0Y

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