School is for learning. But ironically, one of the things that people don’t really learn to do well in school, is how to learn. We are taught rote memorization and told to absorb it for arbitrary tests without being taught how to effectively absorb the material. And it seems as the methods we were actually taught in school aren’t all that effective. In a meta-analysis (a study analyzing other studies) published several years ago, 10 of the most popular learning techniques were studied and their effectiveness were ranked. The methods were categorized as low, moderate, or high in terms of utility (effectiveness) in absorbing learned material. Highlighting/marking/underlining, summarizing, and rereading — all popular study methods taught in school — registered as low utility. But lets start with the most efficient ones.
High Efficiency Study Methods
Practice testing and distributed practice received a high utility assessment because they benefit learners of many age groups and abilities. And have been shown to boost academic performance across a multitude of testing conditions and testing materials. Additionally, high utility study methods do not require extensive training in relation to their gained benefits.
Practice testing (High)
This should come as no surprise—practice testing has been lauded by learning experts as one of the best ways to retain information. Practice testing has over 100 years of research to back up its effectiveness. Simply put, it works.
Practice testing doesn’t need to actually be an actual test and in a testing environment. Actually, you can test yourself anytime, anywhere, and with anything. You can test yourself in your head by asking yourself questions and answering them. Also, you can test yourself by using flash cards. You can test yourself by doing practice problems without the aid of notes or textbook material. And yes, you can test yourself by setting yourself up in a testing environment.
Two theories have been put forth as to why testing works:
- testing enhances retention by triggering elaborative retrieval processes by accessing your long-term memory and retrieving associated information and
- testing facilitates the encoding of more effective mediators via cues and targets.
Additionally, recent evidence suggests that practice testing also improves the ability of students to mentally organize their knowledge, and thereby increasing the speed and efficiency of the information retrieval process.
Practice testing is highly effective because it is reasonable with time demand, doesn’t take a whole lot to learn how to do, and works for all types of tasks and subjects.
Tips for practice testing: Studies show that immediate retesting without time between tests does very little good in increasing learning. Rather, practice testing should be done when enough time has elapsed between practice tests.
Distributed practice (High)
Distributed practice is the method of dividing your studies over time intervals rather than doing it in one large chunk. This is why cramming for tests does not work; studies have repeatedly shown that distributed practice is better for material retention and absorption.
The reason distributed practice works is because it gives the brain time to absorb the information by switching back and forth between focused and diffused mode of thinking. The evidence is pretty clear that spacing your studies is important to remembering what you learn.
A study in 1979 showed that students who distributed 6 study sessions with an interval of 30 days between each session did the best when a test was administered 30 days after the 6th session. The students who distributed their 6 sessions with 1 day between each session did slightly worse on the final test (also given 30 days after their 6th session), but did better than the first group in all the tests given prior to the final test. And the people who did not allow a day to lapse before restudying fared the worst. They did dramatically worse on the final test than the first two group.
Tips for distributed practice: Although it would be nice to let 30 days sit between each study session, you are not given such luxury in an academic environment; most classes span 3-4 months in length and have between two to four big tests during that time, along with weekly quizzes and homework. Thus, the best thing to do with a test for school is to use the 24 hour spacing interval to restudy your material. Within the first several days of learning, you should space out your learning between every 24 hours. After the first four review sessions (with 24 hours between each review), your review sessions can be further spaced out and less detailed. In fact, letting a month go by after the first four review sessions is completely fine.
Combine distributed practice and practice testing and your test scores should skyrocket. For the overwhelming majority of your academic endeavors, distributed practice combined with practice testing is enough to ace your exams and learn the material.
And if you wan to try practicing or developing your business skills – try Simformer business games! They will provide you both with an environment and challenge both to learn new things and test your current skills.