5 techniques to study effectively

A majority of my education was at Cebu International School (CIS) and on my last two years of high school, I underwent the International Baccalaureate programme. I graduated in 2015 and established my career in the fitness and health industry before starting university in 2019 at Cebu Doctors’ University (CDU). Due to the pandemic in 2020, and like everyone, my life changed.

I am excited to be studying health sciences at the University of South Australia, and being a student is a full-time commitment. When I started this degree, I was fortunate enough to undergo a course called “Critical Approaches to Online Learning” and this course made me rethink a lot of my traditional methods of studying. Which consists of read over the notes, review the course material, re-reading, taking more notes, re-reading, and highlighting the content. This repetition is drilled into us for years but science is very clear that there are more beneficial study techniques that will allow us to retain information more effectively, and maximize the limited time we have. I was watching this video, and these are 5 ways to study effectively;

The 5 ways to study effectively:

  1. Memory Palaces
  2. Feynman Technique/Protege Effect
  3. Practice Tests
  4. Zeigarnik Effect/Pomodoro
  5. Distributed Learning (Spaced Repetition)

Memory athletes who compete in the World Memory Championships use an ancient Greek method known as memory palaces, also known as method of loci (loci is Latin for places). This technique is very simple. Imagine walking through an environment, like your house, and you place objects in specific places. Try matching the objects with things that you want to learn. When you are trying to recall that information, do not just think back onto your notes, think of where those notes are in your house. Which object did you attach it too? What is the colour? Then reapply this method until it becomes crystal clear in your mind. This technique maps new information with something in your brain and recall specific imagery.

The second technique is something we all know – the best way to understand a concept is to explain it to someone else. In the words of Roman philsopher Seneca, “when we teach, we learn“. Research has shown that when students teach a topic to someone else, they demonstrate a greater effort to learn material compared to students learning for their own sake. This is called the protégé effect. A 2007 study looked into this, and students in the study who taught younger students scored higher than students who only learned for themselves. The researchers found that when you teach someone else, you have to work harder to understand the material, to recall it more accurately and apply it more effectively and this phenomenon is known as depth of processing.

The Feynman Technique

a mental model developed by physicist, Richard Feynman. This technique forces you to deconstruct then reconstruct ideas. Imagine the student you are teaching to is a 5-year old.

  1. Write the name of a concept on the top of a blank piece of paper.
  2. Write down an explanation of the concept as if you are teaching it to a new student or someone.
  3. Identify what is missing, then go back and re-learn it.
  4. Review everything, and simplify as much as possible. Avoid using complicated language.

Master students are committed to effective study strategies, but shipwreck students are committed to ineffective study strategies. If you are asked if reading again, and again a good way to learn? What about highlighting or using key word mnemonics? These are scientifically proven to be low in effectiveness for long-term learning. On the other end of the spectrum, things like practise tests or spacing out your learning are scientifically proven to be high in effectiveness and boost your performance. In 2005, a social psychologist named Regan A. R. Gurung assessed 229 students using 11 different studying techniques. He then matched their techniques with their final exam scores. Many, but not all of the techniques they used did achieve better exam scores, such as studying earlier or reading notes before and after class did not seem to be effective. Regan found detriments to the studying, and one was listening to music. The thing that worked the most over others was the number of times a student did practise exams. Even rereading notes and highlighting over the content did not impact the final exam score as much as practise exams did. To find out if you are a shipwreck or master student, here is a free quiz to find out what type of student you are: http://bit.ly/2FSBoH2

The fourth technique is known in psychology as the Zeigarnik Effect, and it is where you remember unfinished tasks better than the tasks you complete. When you interupt a task, it creates task specific tension that can improve cognitive function. So step away from your desk as you study, that tiny little tension you feel – I still ned to finish reviewing my chapter, I haven’t done the next paper yet – it keeps the task at the top of your mind, and this keeps your brain focused on the task. The information becomes easily accessible and then you can remember it better.

If you want to take advantage of the Zeigarnik effect suggests that students who take breaks during which they perform totally unrelated activities (like studying another subject, dancing, playing the guitar, cleaning, going for a walk) will remember material better, than students who go through longer study sessions without taking a break. A popular method is the Pomodoro technique, where you work for 25 minutes, take a break for 5 minutes, then work for 25 minutes then take a break for 5 minutes.

A final tip, cramming is better than not studying for the short term. But is studying seven hours straight in one day, better than studying one hour a day for seven days a week? Let us say you were given the same amount of time for study, would you be better off spreading it out? The answer is a yes – spacer it out. This is known as the distributed learning practise, or space repetition technique. Distributing learning over either a single study session, or across study sessions benefits the oong-term retention more than massive cramming and learning back-to-back. Space your study out. A group of scientists looked at 254 studies involving more than 14,000 people and overall, the students remembered more after spaced study than cramming and massed studying.

At the end of the day, you have to consider what method works for you. Having family or friends around, replying on your social media, missing class, having the television on are not going to help you, but doing practise tests, getting to sleep on time, eating proper nutrition, exercising and explaining what you learnt to others, and using these five techniques can help you. Now that you know what these techniques are, you have to prepare more effectively, get organised, focus on the right things effectively, and most of all, you must take action every single day.

For those of you looking for a reason to study or get motivated, then I highly recommend the following video for some inspiration!