Developing Effective Study Habits

With fall finals approaching all too quickly, it is time to think about effective study strategies. In “How We Learn: The Surprising Truth about When, Where, and Why it Happens,” Benedict Carey (2014) looks at the research around learning, considering how they can be used to develop effective study habits. Carey also provides some answers to some common questions about studying, including:

  • Is cramming a good study strategy?

Maybe, but only as a last resort. However, Carey suggests that spacing your study time over several days works better. For some reason, your brain’s memory gets better if you forgot some details and then learn them again. As Carey writes, “memory is like a muscle: A little “breakdown” allows it to subsequently build greater strength.” Plan ahead so you can fit in an hour or two of studying in the days before the big test and avoid having to cram.

  • Can flashcards help us remember?

Yes—self testing is a very effective study technique. Carey writes that using flashcards, explaining concepts to yourself or to a friend, and even reciting passages from memory are good techniques to use as you try to retain and comprehend new information.

  • Does sleep really affect learning?

Yes, sleep matters! But if you need to skimp on sleep, Carey recommends using your natural sleep patterns to cope with the loss. He writes that “If you’re preparing for a test that’s heavy on retention, (foreign vocabulary, names, dates, chemical structures), it’s better to hit the sack at your usual time . . . and roll out of bed early for a quick review.” But if you are working on a project that requires motor skills or creative thinking (say a math final, a music recital, or a creative writing assignment), he says sleeping in and taking advantage of the part of the sleep cycle that helps consolidate these skills is a good idea.

For more ideas about effective studying strategies and tutoring assistance, check out the resources on the CCS Online resource page or contact Justin Marsh, eLearning Department’s Student Success Coach at 509-533-7070.