Articles Written by Dr. Mary
When do you study? A few days before a test? The night before? The morning of? During lunch? (yikes!!)
In order to learn most effectively it is a good idea to study every day using distributed practice techniques. Distributed practice is practice that is done frequently. The use of distributed practice provides opportunity for information to move into your long-term memory more effectively and efficiently.
Most students, however, typically study a few days or even just the night before a test. This is referred to as massed practice, or “cramming.” This is a very ineffective technique because, when cramming, you are usually just memorizing the material. It may seem like you are studying hard, and you are! Cramming is very time- and effort-intensive, but not very effective. When cramming, you are mostly using your short-term memory. Short-term memory is very limited in duration and capacity; therefore, to keep information stored there, you have to continuously go over the material time and time again, using maintenance rehearsal techniques. This is a very slow, tedious and ineffective strategy to use. If you have ever used flashcards, you know what this is like – you have to keep flipping through them over and over again.
If you have ever crammed for a test, you also know that after the test you really don’t remember much of the information you jammed into your brain. You basically did a brain dump on the test, and because you didn’t make many connections with the information while studying, the information is gone. Essentially, you wasted a lot of time cramming because you will probably have to study that same material again for the next test.
Additionally, the type of knowledge that is gained through cramming is typically declarative knowledge, meaning that you can simply repeat the information in its original form. Because of the way short-term memory functions, information stored there is difficult to apply or utilize.
Success in learning can be enhanced by using a study schedule. Though it may be difficult to study every day, it is important to study as frequently as possible.
Distributed practice has also been found to increase the connections in your brain. Similar to how lifting weights helps your muscles develop and grow larger, the same is true for your brain – the more practice you do with your brain (studying), the more you shape your brain.
Frequent study sessions not only improve learning, but they can also improve your self-confidence and self-efficacy in the subject matter you are focusing on. Your increased self-confidence and self-efficacy can help you perform better on tests. Remember, practice makes perfect!
How Active are you in your studying? Some students may think they’re Active learners but they are really not. Quite the contrary, they’re being very passive.
I was working with a student a few weeks ago who told me he was an active learner. When I asked him to describe for me what he did, he said he actively hits the arrow key on his laptop to move from slide to slide in a PowerPoint presentation. That’s really not being active.
Active learning includes:
Planning – developing a study schedule
Determining your goals for completing the task
Recognizing your strengths and weaknesses in the subject matter to name a few.
Throughout your academic career, you’ve probably developed a methodology or strategy you use to learn and study. You may even use the same strategy for all educational tasks. Sometimes it may be effective, other times it may not. If you performed as well as you desired on a task, like a test, you may conclude that the strategy you used was effective. You may feel a sense of accomplishment, or maybe even relief that you did as well as you did. If you didn’t perform as well as you wanted, you may decide that your strategy was ineffective. However, if it is the only strategy you know, you may become frustrated and, unfortunately, even give up.
But to be successful, you need to be actively involved in your study process – assess the amount of work you need to do and set goals, develop a study schedule, determine how you feel about the learning task – are you somewhat comfortable with the content and what needs to be done, or are you confused and feeling lost? You may need to adapt your learning strategies for every course you are taking. Think about it, you may not study anatomy in the same way that you study psychology. But regardless of the subject matter, it is critical that you be an Active participant in your studying which will enable you to learn information quicker and remember it longer.
For more information on how to be an Active learner, go to MasteringLearning.com. The Using Your Brain to Learn: Strategies for Success handbook includes more information or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
In general, most educational activities are instructor-directed. Oftentimes the instructor may simply provide you with directions for the particular assignment, but may not offer any suggestions as to how you should think and process information while doing the activity. You, the student, attempt to accomplish the activity and learn the material using the learning strategies you know.
Throughout your academic career, you have probably developed a methodology or strategy you use to learn and study. You may even use the same strategy for all educational tasks. Sometimes it may be effective, other times it may not. If you performed as well as you desired on a task, you may conclude that the strategy was effective. You may feel a sense of accomplishment, and perhaps even relief that you did as well as you did. If you didn’t perform as well as you wanted, you may decide that your strategy was ineffective. However, if it is the only strategy you know, you may become frustrated and may, unfortunately,even give up.
There is a significant amount of research that has looked at the characteristics of successful learners. Essentially, successful learners have the skills and ability to learn in a variety of instructional situations. They can adapt their learning techniques as necessary because they understand how their brain works and how to use the appropriate learning strategy for the desired learning goal. They approach instructional tasks with a high degree of confidence that they can accomplish the task. They also understand that learning is an active process and they must take responsibility for doing it. Successful learners are actively engaged with the material and make associations between new information and prior knowledge. They anticipate uses and applications of this information, and have an awareness of when they are learning the material, as well as when they are not.
In summary, to be successful you need to do the following:
- Actively work with the information.
- Associate new information with prior knowledge.
- Anticipate uses and applications of the information.
- Awareness of when you are learning and when you are not.
It is important to have an understanding of how your brain works and those learning strategies that are most effective for moving information into long-term memory. By doing so, you will be able to improve the strategies that you are currently using, learn new strategies, and develop systematic ways to approach studying and learning that work for you. This knowledge will enable you to evaluate the effectiveness of different strategies for different learning situations.
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