BBC News (Health) reported today on some recent research concerning the best and worst strategies for studying and revising material. In short they confirm that techniques such as highlighting or underlining have a low efficiency in terms of retention and utilisation. The article also provides a good comparison of the efficiency of a range of techniques.
The methods which scored either MODERATE or HIGH in efficiency include:
- Practice testing (HIGH)
- Self-testing to check your knowledge (eg. with flash cards)
- Distributed practice (HIGH)
- Spreading out your study plan over time and not cramming before an exam
- Elaborative interrogation (MODERATE)
- Being able to explain a point or fact when questioned.
- Self-explanation (MODERATE)
- Explaining how a problem was solved
- Interleaved practice (MODERATE)
- Switching between different kinds of problems
The Cornell Notes method which I described in a recent post is a great example of using multiple methods to improve efficiency, all wrapped up into one system. If applied in the manner in which it was designed you are using:
- Practice testing (HIGH) – because you use the cue column to test yourself whilst the notes column is covered
- Distributed practice (HIGH) – because you review your notes regularly
- Summarising (LOW) – in your short summary paragraphs at the bottom of the page
- Re-reading (LOW) – because you need to re-read your notes to create summaries and cues
- Elaborative interrogation (MODERATE) – if you follow the tips I gave, your summary will be a short explanation of the material covered, worded as though you were explaining it to somebody else
You can read the full BBC News story here. For educators who are interested, you can read the original research paper here.