A Study
on How We Study

Written by Erin Walsh

Recite the states in the United States alphabetically, list all the presidents of the U.S. from George Washington to the occupant of the White House (when you were in grade school), and share the date of the battles of Lexington and Concord.

For most of us, of our early education consisted of memory assignments. Personally, I never forgot the mnemonic “my very educated mother just served us nine pickles” (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto – alas poor Pluto has since been demoted from planet status).

Why? Because according to common belief, memorizing and repeating information, leads to greater learning outcomes. But, it turns out that many studies, dating as far back as 1890 (that would be President Benjamin Harrison), refute this. What else has been proven not to work? Re-reading, highlighting, and our favorite, funny mnemonics.

Henry L. Roediger published an article in the Association for Psychological Science in the Public Interest entitled “Applying Cognitive Psychology to Education: Translational Educational Science,” which points out that, contrary to these studies, the practices listed above continue to be quite common.

So what has science proven really works? According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and Dr. Rebecca Adams, associate director of faculty training at NCU, there are five proven study techniques:

Five Proven Study Techniques:

1. Distributed Practice is the opposite of cramming for a test. Shorter and diverse study sessions – covering several topics that are distributed over a period of time, are more successful.

2. Retrieval Practice or Testing focuses on taking practice tests. By testing yourself, you practice retrieving information that is kept in an accessible state in your brain.

3. Interleaved Practice is a form of studying that mixes up different kinds of problems or materials in one study session. Multiple associations may be formed within a single study session that can then be recalled by a variety of cues. And, because the study tasks change frequently, studying this way is more engaging and less boring.

4. Elaborative Interrogation isn’t a technique from a Law & Order episode. The technique works by explaining why a fact or concept is true. This helps students make a connection between the new information they are learning and information they have previously learned. It is a strategy that works particularly well when comprehension is the focus, and students have pre-existing knowledge of the topic.

5. Self-explanation encourages students to explain how new information is related to known information, or to verbally explain the steps followed when solving a problem.