When it comes to studying for an upcoming test, many students sit down for hours the night before and review their flash cards a hundred times over. But is that really the most effective way to prepare?
Stephanie Gray Wilson, associate psychology professor at Capital University, said that cramming is the worst way to study because students will only remember the information for a short amount of time and not fully understand it.
“We tend to overestimate how much we actually know,” Wilson said.
When students reread their notes, they think they know the material because they recognize it, but they don’t actually understand it. Wilson explained this is because humans feel the same way when they deeply understand something as when they remember seeing it from before.
To get the deep understanding students need, Wilson suggests replicating the testing environment.
“If you know you’re going to do an essay, practice writing essays,” Wilson said.
Wilson added that making connections is really important when studying.
“If you can think of an example or something relevant to you, when you go to remember it, you have more retrieval cues,” Wilson said.
School guidance counselor David Leland agreed that studying is more than just memorizing facts.
“Taking that knowledge and that information and applying it to something, not just reciting it, is what really counts,” Leland said.
According to the American Psychology Association, another important part of studying is breaking up study sessions by combining different subjects.
Wilson explained that when someone is studying and they split up their subjects, they have to spend some time remembering what they just previously studied.
“That repetition allows you to get a better understanding of the material,” she said.
Leland agrees that it’s not effective to just sit down and study one subject for hours on end.
“We talk a lot about having a plan and breaking down the time you’re going to spend studying,” Leland said. “We put together a lot of plans about ‘chunking it.’ Study for 30 minutes, take a 15 minute break, then start that rotation back.”
Leland added that it’s important to stay organized because students typically don’t have much time outside of school.
“A lot of time gets wasted trying to track down what you need to do,” Leland said.
Another method many students utilize is studying in groups, Leland added.
“Have somebody who is responsible for each chapter, so you don’t have to be an expert on all of them, and then that person can quiz you and you can ask them questions,” Wilson said.
Studying in groups is only effective if everyone is motivated for the task and participating, Wilson said.
Wilson added that it’s not just about how people study, but when they study also matters. Starting to study early makes a huge difference, she explained.
“Start it two weeks ahead of time so you have time to ask people questions,” Leland said. “Study smarter, not harder.”