Thursday, September 12, 2013
Stress about tests? Maybe you use the wrong ways to learn
What's the best way to learn for a test, an interview or a presentation? It’s the kind of thing that can stress any of us – and does not make for a happy life. Scientific American Mind has just published a review of work carried out by researchers earlier this year on this very topic.
Maybe surprisingly for some of us, the least effective were summarising, highlighting passages of text, re-reading, using keyword mnemonics, and using imagery (unless the material lends itself particularly well imagining). Well, that explains my poor exam performances in the past!
Taking practice tests and scheduling your studying over time were the most effective. Which makes sense to me, because I did best in the old “O” levels where we practised lots of past papers during the term preceding the exams.
Ten different learning techniques were examined by Dunlosky his team, and here’s a summary of the results which I have tracked down in their original paper (ref below):
Low effectiveness: Summarising, Highlighting/underlining, Keyword mnemonic (using keywords and mental imagery), Imagery for text (making mental images from the text), Re-reading
Moderate effectiveness: Elaborative interrogation (explaining why some fact or concept is true), Self-explanation (explaining how new information relates to known information, or explaining steps taken during problem solving), Interleaved practice (mixing different kinds of study or study material within a session).
High effectiveness: Practice testing (‘flash cards’ or taking practice tests), Distributed practice (scheduling your study over time).
The authors don't claim miracle improvements, but do recommend you use the more highly effective methods! And this applies to your kids doing their studies, of course...
Ref. Dunlosky et al., (2013), Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology, Psychological Science in the Public Interest. 14(1) 4–58