Show of hands: how many of us have procrastinated, stayed up super late the night before an exam or presentation, attempted to absorb several weeks’-worth of information, and gotten through the event… only to promptly forget everything we thought we had “learned” very soon afterwards.
This isn’t unusual. In fact, a 2014 survey of 1,500 students found that 99 percent admitted to cramming for exams and nearly half were actually planning to rely on cramming for their finals. However, different parts of the brain support different kinds of memory — and being able to recognize something isn’t the same as recalling it.
How to Build Effective Study Skills
With only 62 percent of first-time undergraduate students going on to receive a bachelor’s degree at the university they enrolled in after six years and self-direction and time management ranking among the most critical skills for college students, the importance of building strong study habits as a high school student can’t be overstated.
“When we look at how the brain works and how memories are formed and stored, we know that spaced repetition is more efficient than massed learning,” explained Professor Sarah Ringler, M.S., an Instructor for Academic Success Strategies and Health Professions Advisor at UVM. “When we solely focus on one strategy for a given period of time, the information becomes so familiar in our short-term memory that it gives us this false sense of knowing and our mind doesn’t have to work too hard.”
Study Tip #1: Spaced Repetition
Spaced repetition is one of three techniques Ringler teaches her students to help them become more efficient and effective learners. When students space out information over time, their brains have to work to retrieve the information.
“This struggle is what we refer to as desirable difficulty,” Ringler said. “When learning becomes challenging or hard, connections are being made and that’s when the work is actually being done.”
Study Tip #2: Interleaving
Ringler also encourages her students to try interleaving, a process which involves students mixing or combining multiple subjects or topics while they study in order to improve their learning, as opposed to blocked practice – studying one topic very thoroughly before moving to another topic.
“This really helps you to go back and forth – to notice similarities and differences or certain characteristics,” Ringler said. “It lends itself more to a deeper sense of learning. Our brain has to work a little harder. It also naturally lends itself to varying up your practice, which is another way to precent burnout and that cramming mentality.”
Study Tip #3: Self-Quizzing
The third technique Ringler recommends is self-quizzing.
“When you just simply reread your notes, the info is right in front of you,” Ringler explained, once again stressing the need for your brain to actually work to recall the information. “When you to retrieve the answer, it allows you to understand what you actually know.”
For self-quizzing techniques, Ringler’s recommendations include the following:
- Set a 20-minute timer and then check in with yourself: What were the key ideas? What were the new ideas? Can you connect it to prior chapters or prior concepts?
- Use flashcards
- Create a PowerPoint presentation to teach a concept to someone else
- Design your own study guide where you come up with the key points and ideas
Additionally, UVM junior Brynlee Lutomski shared her tips for learning success, which included:
1.) Plan out the time you’re going to study. (“If you don’t plan it, it’s not going to happen,” Lutomski said.)
2.) Make sure you try all modes of studying: Quizlet, notecards, recalling the information by writing it out or quizzing yourself.
3.) Turn off technology: disable notifications or just turn off your devices (if you’re not using them for studying, of course).
“With any learning, don’t get discouraged if you don’t see immediate results,” Ringler said. “Keep in mind that this takes time. Effort equals retention. Challenge yourself. Space out your studying over time. Interleave what you are learning, self-test, and remember to include self-care strategies. We can’t run on empty.”
Learn more about UVM’s Pre-College Programs and how to get a head start on college credits while in high school.