How to study most effectively, according to cognitive research

When it comes to studying, there are many different approaches you can take. But new cognitive research out of Western University in Canada has identified three proven steps that will help you study and learn most effectively. You can find those three steps below.

Set a goal: Figure out what you’ll study — like key topics from a lecture or a driver’s handbook — and when you’ll do it, by creating and following a schedule. Aim for shorter study sessions that are spaced out over time. For example, five one-hour sessions are better than one five-hour session.

Practice: Create opportunities to recall what you have learned to help move information into long-term storage. Online flashcard apps are great (check out free options such as Anki and Flashcards by NKO), though all you really need is paper and a pen.

If you’re a student, try leaving blank spaces in your course notes to recall and write out concepts after class. If you’re teaching, build informal testing into your lessons. Beyond modeling the technique, it also helps students sustain their attention, take better notes and it reduces test anxiety.

Consolidate success: Check your work and monitor your progress over time. If you’re successfully recalling something most of the time, you can decrease how often you review that content and replace it with new content as you progress. Deliberately recalling information is the critical ingredient for successive relearning, so be sure to lock it into your memory by writing down and committing to an answer before checking your notes or textbook.

Remember that without deliberate recall practice, little information makes it into your long-term memory, which inhibits effective long-term learning. So, put down your highlighter and try something new. Just regularly thinking about a topic and recalling the particulars is a real opportunity for success.

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