Three ways to study, according to science

We all have certain study methods we like to use, but there’s no point wasting time on old habits if they do not actually help you to retain the information you have learned.

I am still trying to find my ideal study style. I always wait until last minute and try to cram everything into my brain. While sometimes I seem to fluke it and get good grades, I am not very consistent. Some information seems to stick in my head really well, but that hard stuff that’s important? Not so much.

I want to put my study time to good use, so I did what any good student should do: research. I did a search for the best ways to study according to science, so you don’t have to.

Young beautiful woman sleeping on blue sofa tired for writing.

Sleep

My number one scientific secret to study success is sleep. Or, to be more specific, resting.

To be honest, sleep is one of my favorite pastimes. A day in bed napping is my idea of a really good time (wow I sound old). The positive mental and physical benefits of sleep are well-documented, but did you know that it can also help you to learn more effectively? It’s not just about getting a good night’s sleep either, though that certainly helps a lot.

It turns out that when you rest is more important to learning than the way in which you rest. Research into whether it was more effective to study in the morning or at night found that those who went to sleep soon after their study session were able to retain a lot more information. Apparently, you are much more likely to forget what you have learned if you study in the morning and then do other tasks throughout the day. Seems like a good excuse to sleep to me!

It wasn’t just the fact the students got a full night’s sleep after studying either. Research into memory retention has found that ‘wakeful resting‘ can be just as good. I tend to call ‘wakeful resting’ doing nothing but now I know the scientific term for it, you bet I will be using it ALL the time. Hold on; I might just have a wakeful rest right now.

For this particular research, two books were read out loud to a group of seniors. Straight afterward, half went into a room to play a game for ten minutes while the other half participated in ten minutes of ‘wakeful resting’. Unsurprisingly, those who spent ten minutes resting were much more likely to remember the information than those who played the game.

So basically my number one favorite study tip from science is: reward yourself with a nap after every study session. If anyone dares question your choice say science told you to.

Practice

It is all very well to have a huge pile of study notes, but reading them more than twice makes little difference to your ability to understand the material or retain information. Instead, the research recommends undertaking practice tests to aid memory, familiarity with the subject, and reduce exam-related stress.

Practice tests help you to study in two ways. First, it makes your brain recall the information using a variety of methods depending on the question, thereby strengthening the memory of the information. Second, practice tests allow you to get used to the pressure of an exam so when the time comes to be tested on your skills you won’t feel as stressed.

Instead of rereading your study notes for the millionth time, on your second read of the material, come up with some questions on the topic. As I explained last week, I have been using this method since learning about Cornell note-taking. Use these questions to create flashcards (questions on one side, answers on the other) and test your knowledge (no peeking !).

This way you can easily tell what you already know and where you have gaps in knowledge, therefore finding those areas you need to study more. Alternatively, there are plenty of flashcard and quiz apps, such as those shown at the end of this post, that you can use for a more interactive approach to practice testing.

Time

Research has shown that distributing your study topics within one study session or spacing them out across multiple sessions are much better for long-term memory retention than mass cramming of information or studying the same information again soon after.  Also, the longer you want to keep the information in your brain, the longer the length of time between study sessions.

For an explanation of how distributional learning works and a rundown of how to implement a 1-7-30 study plan check out this great article. I’m really keen to put this system into place and see if I notice any improvements.

Finally, when it comes to things you have learned there is one important rule: use it or lose it. If you want to remember what you have studied, you need to use that knowledge in real life. At CCI Training Center you have the advantage of attending both theory and lab classes. Not only do you get to understand why: you also get shown how. You are more likely to remember information if you actually put it into use, so make sure you use your lab time wisely to retain the theory you have been learning.

Practice makes perfect: four fun apps to help you learn

Memrise
The study tool I use the most is Memrise. You can choose from the thousands of courses within the app or add your own course using a question/answer or keyword/definition format. I use this app so much I now write my notes in question and answer format within a spreadsheet so I can use Memrise’s bulk upload feature. The only downside is that you can only create a course through the web app and it can be tricky to figure out how to do it.

Quizlet
Quizlet allows you to create your own flashcards and games as well as being able to search the database for study tools in your chosen topic area. On top of the flashcards, there is a ‘match’ mode where you have to match question to answer and a ‘learn’ mode that will show you a question, and you have to type in the answer correctly to continue. A big downside is only being able to include voice recording and images in the paid version.

Cram
Cram is another app that allows you to create flashcards or find flashcard sets created by others on your topic. You can create public or private sets of flashcards, and you can add photographs. While Cram provides two learning mode to review your material, there are no ways other ways to practice using the information on the flashcards, such as games or quizzes. Cram does one thing and does it well.

StudyBlue 
StudyBlue provides much the same service as Quizlet and Cram, being a straightforward flashcard app. You can create flashcards and view those created by others. The big plus for StudyBlue, and the only reason I have included it is that you can add both photos AND record audio to your flash card.