Best Practice and Research Based Strategies to Improve Student Learning
1. Look after your Physical Self.
Studies show that sleep is a very important time! As you learn new information during the day, the new info is imprinted on your brain cells called neurons. These “imprints” are called markers. As you fall into deep sleep, these markers activate and the neurons begin to connect the new learning with old learning. This creates stronger memories! If you study the most difficult matrial for 20 minutes just before you sleep, you will remember it better the next day. BUT this is not supporting cramming for a test — which reduces sleep, is done under stress because of time constraints, and often causing anxiety — this the worst way to study! You will not remember the material under those conditions. Also eat well: high carbohydrate, high fibre foods like oatmeal and fruits and vegetables create a long, slow energy supply for your brain. Add some protein (eggs, cheese, meat) to fuel the brain neurons, and you are good to go. Water is also very important for the brain. When you feel “fuzzy” have a glass of water! Here’s the real challenge: eat like this and drink water regularly for two weeks before exam time.
2. Distributed Practice or Spaced Practice:
Let’s face it…countless research reports tell us you will learn better, stronger, harder if you are attending class every day and attending to the lesson and the teacher-monitored practice time. Research also shows that if you study for shorter segments of time on a regular basis, you will be studying more effectively. For example, if you are studying for the Socials 11 exam, study for 15-20 minutes on one specific area (the teacher will have given you an outline of specific topics on your course outline and in your study materials). Take a break (go for a walk, eat a snack, talk with a friend, play a game), and then have another study period, perhaps for another test.
3. Practice Testing:
Make up questions that you might find on the test. Choose a variety of ways to do this: multiple choice questions, short answer questions, paragraph answer questions, questions that ask for diagrams or representation of a concept or system (e.g., draw a diagram of the renal system, labeling the major components), and diagrams where labels are required. You could create these questions with small group, in which everyone makes up 5 questions and you share them with each other.
4. Reduce Interference:
Study subjects in separate study time blocks. This is so that you can remember one subject area, without interference from another subject. It’s also suggested that you study each subject in a different area of your home, so that you reduce spacial/visual interference. Finally, and this you won’t like to hear, it’s best to study in a quieter environment with no music, TV, facebook, text messages or phone calls to distract you. Recent research shows that when we multitask (e.g., study and chat on Steam or facebook), it takes our brains about 2 seconds to move to the other activity, and another 5 seconds to be fully engaged in it. It’s been shown that a task that normally would take 10 minutes to do when fully engaged in it, actually will take 20 or more minutes when we multitask! Information reviewed and studied amid distractions is less likely to be remembered later in an exam.
The material you need to remember! Rather than re-reading a chapter or your notes over and over, recite the facts in the selection of notes or the reading from memory until you know them very well. You should spend as much time reciting as possible. Recitation is active learning and engages more than one of your senses; it gives you feedback so you know what part of the material you need to spend more time on; and it forces you to concentrate and pay attention to the material. You can do this by yourself, with a partner or in a group setting.
6. Use a Study System:
The oldest and best-known study system is “SQ3R”. This is an acronym that stands for the steps of the system, which are Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review. Here is how to perform each step:
- Survey. Instead of trying to learn the material in detail, when surveying you just want to get a grasp of the framework of the information.To survey the material, read the various structural parts without digging too deep. It’s almost like forming an outline: read the preface, table of contents, and the chapter summaries. Read all the main headings and subheadings within the chapters. Carefully examine any graphs or pictures, and read the captions. When surveying you want to study everything except the actual meat of the material.
- Question. After completing your survey, again go through the same parts you just surveyed and ask yourself questions about each one. For example, if you are beginning to study a math chapter on the quadratic formula, ask yourself questions like “What is the quadratic formula, and why is it important?”, “Is this formula useful in real life?”, or “Why is it called ‘quadratic’?”. Thinking of questions keeps you focused and really engages you with the material.
- Read. After surveying the framework of the material and thinking of questions related to it, it is now time to read the paragraphs and other detailed sections. Many students jump right to this step without first surveying and questioning, which makes it much harder to place the material into your memory in an orderly way.Read straight through everything without taking notes. Makes sure to read through the graphs, chapters summaries, etc. again as well.You probably want to avoid underlining as you read through the first time. The reason is that on first reading you can’t really judge what is most or least important to remember. Underlining the wrong things can actually hurt your memory of the information.
- Recite. As discussed above, reciting means to ask and answer questions about the information. Go through the chapter and read each heading and subheading. Ask yourself questions about the headings, and answer from memory without looking at the book. Reciting step by step through the chapter will give you a very accurate picture of how well you know the material. Experts recommend you spend at least half of your time reciting.
- Review.The review step should take only a few minutes. The review consists of reciting your way through the material again. The more times you can review before your exam, spaced out over hours or days if possible, the better you will likely remember the material.Never end a reading session without reviewing the main points of what you have just read. This is one of the most important tips for remembering any material.This same idea of reviewing information from a book you are studying also applies to notes you take during lectures. Use the same SQ3R steps when studying your notes.