5 Study Strategies That Boost Success​

I came across this fantastic article in Edutopia recently and wanted to share the five learning and studying strategies mentioned by the article's authors, Dr. Donna Wilson and Dr. Marcus Conyers. 


1. Self-Explanation: the authors call this strategy "explain it to your brain." Essentially, students talk to themselves, telling themselves what they are thinking and doing while learning. For instance, when learning a new skill like creating a mind map, a student could talk through what he is doing: "First, I draw a center circle and write the main idea in it. Then I draw smaller circles around the main circle and connect those circles with lines. These lines show that the smaller circles are connected to the main idea." 


The authors explain that this strategy works because "a number of important cognitive strategies are involved…including integrating new information with prior knowledge, generating inferences when there’s missing information, and monitoring and fixing faulty knowledge."


Students may need modeling of this strategy before they can use it effectively on their own, especially younger students. 


2. Self-Test: when students prepare and take their own test as a way to study for an upcoming exam, it helps them see what they still need to study and it also reinforces what they have learned. Dr. Wilson and Dr. Conyers recommend that students ask themselves what questions they think the teacher will ask on the exam. They can use the study guide or come up with the questions from their notes, worksheets, labs, and homework. 


This strategy works especially well after the first exam of the year, when they will have a better idea of how their teacher structures tests. But they can also approach their teacher ahead of the first exam, tell them they are creating their own practice test, and brainstorm with the teacher what kinds of questions they might encounter. 


The authors also recommend that the test students create have the same number of questions the teacher would ask, that they spend the same amount of time on their practice test as they would in class to take the exam, and that they check their answers after. 


If this looks like a lot of effort, it is. But the reward is that the student really engages with and thinks critically about the material, often leading to more robust and effective studying than just re-reading notes or a study guide.

This is another strategy that would benefit from modeling from you, me, or another teacher/adult.


3. Distributing Practice and Study Time: the authors encourage students to pace their study time over a number of days rather than cramming. 


Once a student knows the date of the exam, she can schedule a number of study sessions before the test. Depending on the student, the time set aside will vary, but it is important to set aside several sessions rather than one or two, if possible. 


Why does this work? As the authors point out, "The brain needs at least seven to nine repeated exposures over time before new content is learned."


Some students even benefit from taking the night off before the exam so they can relax and get a good night's sleep. 


4. Teach to a Friend: when students can teach what they have learned to another person, it will help them understand it better. This could be you, a study partner, their sibling, or even the dog (if the dog will sit still long enough to learn algebra). 


5. Take Breaks: last, but absolutely not least, the authors advocate taking breaks during studying. The general rule is a 5- to 10-minute break after every 20 minutes. The break could include getting a drink, stretching, petting the cat, getting a snack, or doing a brisk walk in the back yard. 


If you would like help implementing any of these strategies, please let me know!