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How to Study Effectively

Evidence based tips on how to study better and reduce the amount of time you spend studying.

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Study Tips

Select any of the tips below to learn more about how to apply them

How To Use Spaced Repetition

The key to spaced repetition is to see the information multiple times with enough time in between to help the brain to strengthen neuron connections and facilitate long term memory. This can be by reviewing information more than two times in hourly or daily intervals. Ultimately, spaced repetition comes in many different forms and is highly dependent on the person.
The only rule to ensure the success of this technique is to review information in an optimal time frame, not too early or too late. This way you will stop your brain from just recognizing information, which occurs when you review too soon, and transition into the recall phase of memory, which occurs when you allow enough time between review sessions to prevent you from forgetting information.
Waiting too long to review information has shown to correlate with degrading neurological memory connections, and ultimately you will be stuck in the cycle of learning and  re-learning with no memory retention.

Use these methods below to begin using spaced repetition. 

  • Rule of 3's - reviewing in intervals of 3 mins, 3 hours and then 3 days.

  • Review information just before you forget it, which is around the one week mark based on the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve.

  • Review daily or every other day to increase days remembered on the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve.

  • Review based on fixed intervals depending on how easy it was to recall the information each time retrieved. This is the method used in the ANKI app algorithm.

Spaced Repetition

How To Use Interleaving

Interleaving, like spaced repetition, also has some variety in how to utilize this strategy effectively. How you interleave topics is up to your discretion. The key is to avoid blocking, which includes studying the same topic or subject all at once in one study session. The benefits of interleaving is that it allows for realistic learning because it allows students to study and integrate information from multiple subjects rather than studying subjects in isolation. This is already used in schools that usually have multiple classes a day, in which students are expected to remember the information learned from one class to the other. Interleaving also has the benefit of efficiency in studying as it allows students to cover more subjects simultaneously in a shorter period of  time.  A disadvantage of this method is that it does require some planning, but this is a short cost to a greater benefit. 

Click here for an example of interleaving.


How To Begin Conceptual Learning

Conceptual learning is one of the areas that seem explanatory, but is often the area that students fall short on. Often, students resort to memorization, as it is the quickest way to remember details. The downside is that memorization is also the quickest way to forget the details and doesn't facilitate critical thinking. The key to conceptual learning is to always ask the questions 'why?' and 'how?' Studies show that when students are able to explain and understand why something is the way that it is, the better they are able to remember the information they are studying in the future. Now, this is not to say that students should never us memorization techniques. The problems is when this is the only technique used. 

Example of how to incorporate conceptual learning in studying 

Consider an anatomy exam where you are asked, "What muscles extends the knee?" Instead of memorizing that the quadricep muscles extend the knee, we can ask the question, why do these muscles extend the knee? By asking why, hopefully you would understand that the direction of the muscle fibers and where it attaches is associated with the muscle action. If we know that the quads are on the anterior part of the leg and attaches to the hip and the patella tendon on the tibia. And we know the muscle fibers run longitudinal/vertical, we can then assume that when the fibers contract or shorten, the knee would be extended as the muscles will pull the bent knee straight. Knowing how muscles works helps students to critically work through answering this question and other similar questions.

Conceptual Learning

How to Self Test

Self testing is highly proven by studies to be effective in it's ability to facilitate long term memory retention through the use of active recall. By using active recall, it prompts the brain to practice reproducing the information learned, further strengthening the neurological connections in the memory. Self testing allows students to gauge how much of the information they remember from their study session and allow opportunities to recode information that was forgotten. If a student finds that they are not able to recall the answer to the questions, they should not look up the answer right away. They should dwell in the discomfort of trying to remember what was learned or reviewed. This is the key to why this technique is an effective study strategy. This sometimes takes more time than a person is willing to wait, but practicing this memory retrieval will solidify the information and create a new memory context simply because you could not remember it the first time. 

Examples of Self testing 

  • Create questions from your review of lecture slides or textbook readings

  • Recite information as a monologue from memory

  • Pretend to teach the information to a 5 year old

  • Predict and create your own exam questions 

  • Answer pre-prepared practice questions from online or school provided resources

Self testing
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