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Study Strategies for Finals!

Today's post is an update for suggested strategies teachers and students can use for final exam preparation.  I have added one additional strategy tip from the previous post!

As final exams approach, your students face the challenge of preparing for them.  Cognitive learning research provides insight into the best practices for studying. 

 The Top 2 Study Strategies are Retrieval Practice and Spaced Learning:

Retrieval Practice 

Retrieval Practice is the act of pulling information out of your brain.  You remember what you know about a word, topic, or lesson, pull it out of your mind and then articulate it in some way.  For example, you write down everything you can remember.  This is the way your brain really wants to learn!  

Retrieval Practice is the opposite of reviewing notes or the textbook and trying to 'stuff' the knowledge into your brain!

Teacher Action:  

If you are holding review session(s) or providing review documents, incorporate places for students to write everything they can remember about the topic before they interact with your review material.  Encourage them to create images, tables, or whatever visually helps them with learning.  (Dual coding theory suggests that images are processed using different parts of the brain.  Using related images and text together offers the student more ways to access the knowledge).

Alternatively, or in addition to, provide students time to write down everything they can remember about review material right after it is covered.  You want to break this down by sections. 

Provide students with images from your course content they can annotate by labeling, drawing a process, or adding detail.

Provide practice tests or quizzes.  If you are a math or a 'mathy' science teacher, provide practice problems that are mixed, forcing students to retrieve information about the different formulas, laws, etc.  



Student Action:

Some examples of retrieval practice include writing down everything you know about a topic, sketching a picture, and adding text to the diagram, taking practice tests, or quizzing friends about class material.

When using flashcards:
  • Write down the answers - don't check the answers the first time through!  Try to think about what the answer is.
  • Go through the flashcard deck at least once (some Cognitive Scientists recommend 3 times) before you eliminate a flashcard.
  • Change the order of the flashcards!  
    • Primacy (first) and Regency (last) effects state we tend to remember items at the beginning and end and not much in the middle.  Changing the order helps with memory.

Spaced Practice - Top Study Strategy!     

Spaced practice refers to studying material over several days in shorter sessions.  If you are going to prepare for a test for 3 hours, it is much better to study for one hour over 3 days than study in a single 3-hour chunk!  Spaced Practice is the exact opposite of cramming!

Spaced Practice, along with Retrieval Practice, are the top two study strategies that show the most positive impact on learning!

Teacher action:

If you are holding review session(s) or providing review documents, structure them, so students space out their review.

Student action:  

Don't Procrastinate!  
Plan your study time for each subject several weeks in advance, and work your plan.  Note that this is in addition to any homework assigned by your teacher. 


Interleaving:

Related to Spaced Practice, interleaving is the practice of changing topic after 25 minutes.  Research has found that learning is enhanced when students switch studying one subject to another subject after 25 minutes.  It doesn't matter if you switch from World War I to Science or World War II.  Scientists believe the compare/contrast brain mechanisms are triggered, increasing learning. 


Other Tips for Student Learning:

Sleep is magic!

Research shows that studying before you sleep and again when you wake up helps you learn better and retain the information!

Eat Fat & Sugar!

Research shows that the fat and sugar in a traditional egg, bacon, pancake, and syrup breakfast provides your brain with needed chemicals for brain power.  Fat is necessary for optimum brain function, and sugar glucose facilitates memory

Cramming & Studying Notes:

Research suggests cramming (long study sessions just before the test) and reviewing notes are much less effective strategies.  While cramming can be beneficial for the short-term goal of doing well on a test or quiz, the information is not retained and will be needed later in the course or the student's academic career.

Studying notes and reading the text is believed to be less effective because the student spends too much time reviewing information they already know, and not enough time with information or concepts they don't!

More Information:

See my blog post from last May for additional study strategies that work and detailed research supporting the strategies.


If you are interested in learning more about Retrieval Practice, visit their website at Retrieval Practice.org.

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