Keystone study strategies outlined

“Three keystone study strategies” outlined in the book Making It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning can become habit and help you structure the remainder of your time this spring semester.

1. Practice Retrieving New Learning from Memory: “Retrieval practice” means self-quizzing. “Retrieving knowledge and skill from memory should become your primary study strategy in place of rereading.” You can do this by stopping during a study or review session to ask yourself questions.

  • What did I just review?
  • What vocabulary/terminology/concepts are new to me?
  • What are the most important points or ideas?
  • How do these important points relate to what I already know?

“The familiarity with a text that is gained from rereading creates illusions of knowing, but these are not reliable indicators of mastery of material,” the authors write. “… By contrast, quizzing yourself on the main ideas and the meanings behind the terms helps you to focus on the central precepts rather than on peripheral material or on a professor’s turn of phrase. Quizzing provides a reliable measure of what you’ve learned and what you haven’t yet mastered.”

2. Space Out Your Retrieval Practice: “Spaced practice means studying information more than once but leaving considerable time between practice sessions.” As you easily understand, cramming for an exam doesn’t fit this model. In order to implement this technique, you should establish a self-quizzing schedule. The authors suggest first quizzing yourself close to your first encounter with the material, then several days later. “Over the course of a semester, as you quiz yourself on new material, also reach back to retrieve prior material and ask yourself how that knowledge relates to what you have subsequently learned.”

In addition, “another way of spacing retrieval practice is to interleave the study of two or more topics, so that alternating between them requires that you continually refresh your mind on each topic as you return to it.”

The take away: “Lots of practice works, but only if it’s spaced.”

3. Interleave the Study of Different Problem Types: “If you find yourself falling into single-minded, repetitive practice of a particular topic or skill, change it up: mix in the practice of other subjects, other skills, constantly challenging your ability to recognize the problem type and select the right solution.”

Making It Stick also recommends other study strategies, which include:

  • Elaboration or “finding additional layers of meaning in new material.”
  • Generation or attempting to answer a question before being shown an answer.
  • Reflection or “the act of taking a few minutes to review what has been learned in a recent class or experience and asking yourself questions” about the material and your acquisition/mastery of the material.
  • Calibration or “the act of aligning your judgments of what you know and don’t know with objective feedback so as to avoid being carried off by the illusions of mastery that catch many learners by surprise at test time.”
  • Mnemonic Devices or “tools … for creating mental structures that make it easier to retrieve what you have learned.”
From chapter 8 of Brown, P. C., Roediger, H. L., & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make it stick: The science of successful learning.

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