Formal education represents such a small part of your life. But it’s important to remember that learning is forever. You study so you can get good grades. You get good grades in hopes of a brighter, better-paid future. Then, you continue learning to grow professionally and personally. But what if the study skills you have aren’t actually all that effective?
Psychology doctor John M. Grohol argues that although many of us are often studying throughout our lives, we’re going about it the wrong way. Using research from Kent State University by Professor John Dunlosky, Grohol argues that some of the most common study skills are also the least effective.
3 Study Skills That Fail
1. Highlighting and Underlining
Oddly enough, this commonly used method might best be used just to keep you awake as you skim through your reading. If the text is difficult to understand, this method might only waste your time. Keyword mnemonics and imagery function in similar ways, providing memory cues but failing to deliver comprehension.
We all remember the memory recall tests from our grade school days: the 50 states, a list of presidents, state capitals, etc —but what does rereading do to serve our comprehension? And can we remember those lists now? Rereading has some benefits, but its long-term usefulness and contributions to comprehension are questionable at best.
Breaking down what you’ve read into its key concepts seems like an ideal way to develop comprehension. But is it effective? Surprisingly, Dunlosky says no—summarization is a timely process that many students never learn to do correctly. Save your time and skills and develop more efficient study habits.
5 Study Skills That Succeed
1. Elaborative interrogation
Asking “why” worked wonders for us when we were only two years old. Vastly effective, this method embeds new information into our minds by critically analyzing content. What you learn becomes a building block from what you already know.
What does this information mean to you? Asking yourself this question is an easy way to go beyond summarizing text. It asks you to understand the information and apply it to yourself in order to make inferences and find places where you need better understanding.
3. Practice testing
Known by some scientists as “retrieval practice” for its ability to create mental networks to answers, practice testing demands memory retrieval through active participation. When paired with feedback and review, this method is exceptionally effective.
4. Distributed practice
Don’t dedicate your whole Sunday night before the exam to studying—instead, plan ahead and give it a try a few times in advance at smaller intervals. Spacing out your learning over multiple intervals “helps maximize retention in learners by strengthening our long-term memory.”
5. Interleaved practice
We all wish the formula we know best on our math exam could apply to all of the problems on it, but this is almost never the case. The interleaved method of learning means mixing up what you’re studying to include the whole range of your study problems. Don’t focus on just one method at a time—test your skills by mixing it up!
It appears that the best ways to learn are the ways that involve us. They make us ask questions, think critically, and form connections. They don’t just answer a question in the moment. Rather, they develop from what we already know. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”
Don’t let bad study habits waste your time or talent. Find a method that truly works for you, and build from it. You’re going to be learning for the rest of your life. Now, you can make it count.