Hey, students – what’s the best way to learn new material? Turns out, it’s not the most-popular study methods, which include highlighting text, and re-reading. So, what does work? Here’s the upshot of decades of research, and thousands of studies by the Association for Psychological Science.
Let’s start with what doesn’t work: Experts say that highlighting is so unhelpful it may actually get in the way of learning. Because underlining makes us focus on lists of facts maybe not even the most important facts. Underlining passages also pulls our focus away from the big picture and the ways different ideas are related.
Another old study standby that scientists say isn’t helpful: Re-reading and memorization. They may help you retain the facts for a day or two – long enough for a test but it won’t help your understanding. And you probably won’t remember most of the information when finals roll around.
So, which study methods actually work?
First: Forget having one marathon study session. Spread out your sessions, instead. Psychologists call it “distributed practice.” They say repeatedly going back to the information over time helps cement it in your memory because your brain has a chance to store and categorize it and you’ll reinforce the same brain pathways each time you study the material.
One final highly-effective study strategy: Practice testing like with flashcards. Having to call up the information strengthens your memory and makes the information easier to retrieve later. And you can easily create and share flashcards online with apps like Quizlet, StudyBlue, and Flashcard Machine.
Bottom line, if you want to be more effective with your study time: Spread out your learning, ditch your highlighter and break out the flashcards.