The Science of Studying: Surprising Strategies Backed by Research


When it comes to studying, most of us rely on tried-and-true methods like highlighting, re-reading, and cramming before exams. However, recent research in cognitive psychology has uncovered some surprising strategies that can boost learning and retention. In this blog post, we’ll explore these innovative approaches and how you can incorporate them into your study routine to maximise your academic success.

One of the most intriguing findings in the field of learning science is the concept of interleaved practice. Traditionally, students tend to study one topic at a time before moving on to the next. However, interleaved practice involves mixing up different topics or types of problems within a single study session. A study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology found that students who engaged in interleaved practice performed significantly better on later tests compared to those who used blocked practice, where they focused on one topic at a time. This technique forces the brain to continually retrieve information from different contexts, which enhances long-term retention.

Spaced Repetition

Another effective strategy supported by research is spaced repetition. Instead of cramming all of your studying into one marathon session, spaced repetition involves spreading out your study sessions over time. A seminal study published in Psychological Science demonstrated that spacing out learning sessions leads to better retention of information compared to massed practice. By revisiting material at intervals, you reinforce your memory more effectively and prevent the information from fading over time. Apps like Anki and Quizlet utilise spaced repetition algorithms to help students memorise facts, vocabulary, and other information so might be worth looking into.

Furthermore, incorporating retrieval practice into your study routine can significantly enhance learning outcomes. Retrieval practice involves actively recalling information from memory, rather than simply re-reading or highlighting it.  It has been proven that students who engaged in retrieval practice performed better on both immediate and delayed tests compared to those who used other study methods. This is because retrieving information from memory strengthens neural connections and enhances long-term retention. Flashcards, practice quizzes, and self-testing are all effective forms of retrieval practice that you can incorporate into your studying.

Additionally, the concept of dual coding can be a powerful tool for learning complex material. Dual coding involves representing information using both verbal and visual channels, enhancing memory and comprehension by providing multiple pathways for encoding and retrieval. When studying, try to create visual representations of the material, such as diagrams, concept maps, or mnemonic devices, in addition to written notes or verbal explanations. This dual encoding process reinforces your understanding of the material and makes it easier to recall later on.

Another surprising strategy that can boost learning is the use of interleaved sleep. Research has shown that sleep can enhance learning and memory consolidation. A study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience found that interleaving periods of sleep between study sessions can improve retention of motor skills. This suggests that spacing out learning sessions with intervals of sleep can help solidify new information in the brain. So instead of pulling an all-nighter, get a full night’s sleep between study sessions to optimise your learning potential.

In conclusion, studying effectively is not just about putting in the hours; it’s about using evidence-based strategies to make the most of your time and effort. By incorporating techniques like interleaved practice, spaced repetition, retrieval practice, dual coding, and interleaved sleep into your study routine, you can enhance your learning and retention of information. So the next time you hit the books, try experimenting with these surprising strategies backed by research and watch your academic performance soar.

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