The Best Study Strategies for College Students

By Catherine Groux
Posted February 11, 2013 11:00 AM

Many strategies students use to study are not as effective as they think they are.
Many strategies students use to study are not as effective as they think they are.

Modern full-time college students tend to spend about 15 hours per week studying, according to the National Survey of Student Engagement. However, this does not mean that these are hours well spent, as research shows that many of the common strategies students use to study are not as efficient as they may think.

Poor Study Strategies

Recently, a team of researchers led by John Dunlosky of Kent State University set out to study the efficiency of 10 popular study strategies students use in both high school and college, the Association for Psychological Science reports. In doing so, the researchers found that even some of the most common learning techniques used by students do not prove beneficial when it comes to boosting grades and test scores.

Overall, five of the techniques researchers tested received low ratings, and interestingly enough, these tended to be some of the most common study strategies students use. These techniques include highlighting and underlining, rereading, and summarization.

Mediocre Study Strategies

In analyzing the study techniques, researchers found that a majority were moderately effective, proving to be not totally useless, but not excellent ways to study, either, Time magazine states. Dunlosky and his colleagues found that these middle-ground strategies include mental imagery - creating pictures to remember text - and elaborative interrogation - asking oneself "why" while reading. Other mediocre study techniques were self-explanation - making oneself explain the text rather than reading passively - and interleaved practice - mixing up different types of problems.

Solid Study Strategies

While this research indicates students may be wasting their time by summarizing, highlighting and rereading test material, there are certain strategies that have proven to be much more effective at boosting grades. Researchers found that the two highest-ranking studying techniques were practice testing and distributed practice.

Practice testing can include using flash cards to quiz oneself or taking a review quiz at the end of a chapter. Distributed practice, on the other hand, involves spreading study sessions out over a period of time and then quizzing oneself on the material before a test.

Although these strategies have proven to be the most efficient ways for students to study, Dunlosky and his colleagues stated that they are not used as often as they could be. This might be partially due to the fact that many teachers are unaware of the best studying techniques, and therefore do not teach their students how to properly prepare for an exam. However, as more research continues to be done on this topic, Dunlosky and his team hope this changes.

"It is obvious that many students are not using effective learning techniques but could use the more effective techniques without much effort, so teachers should be encouraged to more consistently (and explicitly) train students to use learning techniques as they are engaged in pursuing various instructional and learning goals," the report states. 

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