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Studying Techniques: What Do the Psychologists Say?

Are you panicking about exams? Are you starting to regret not studying earlier in the year? Have you even resorted to sleeping with a book under your pillow? Fear not! Here is some last minute advice, based on scientific literature of course, to help you make the most of the study period that you have left.

1. Don’t highlight; practice exams

A recent study at the University of Wisconsin study examined factors which were correlated with exam success 1. They found that low exam scores were predicted by some surprising factors including highlighting notes to read later or reading the textbook chapter after the lecture. Although these may appear to be productive behaviours, they are not the best techniques for allowing any deep understanding of the course material. Instead, you should consider practicing exam papers and problems, as these were both associated with success in exams. The authors suggest this may be because practicing problems makes you process course material more deeply, as well as highlighting areas that you need to improve on.

2. Process information deeply and frequently

A report published in 2009 by Hattie et al. examined of over 800 studies relating to educational achievement and looked for study techniques that were associated consistently with success 2. What they found was that deep, careful and frequent processing of the course material was the most effective strategy. For example, creating mnemonics or vivid mental pictures to aid learning, generating examples that apply to the study material and memorising the material through repetition. While these techniques might take quite a bit of effort, they are the best way to make sure you have a strong representation of the material in your memory.

3. Avoid distractions

Finally, avoiding distractions appears to be crucial in order to be fully prepared for an exam 3. Students who schedule study time with breaks and stick to their work plan are more likely to perform well. It was also found that students who put off enjoyable activities until their targets were completed were more successful. Think of it this way – if you only have a short time until your exams, make the most of it! Binge-watching Game of Thrones will feel so much better after the exam!

Although this is far from a comprehensive list, these are just some important things to consider as you enter into the final hurdle before the summer holidays. You can do this! Good luck!

Edited by Debbie Nicol


  1. Gurung R A, Weidert J, & Jeske A. Focusing on How Students Study. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. 2010; 10(1): 28-35.
  2. Hattie, J.Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. 2009. London, England: Routledge.

Published on: May 9, 2015

Filled Under: Life Sciences, Snippets

Views: 1760

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