Outside of lecture, university students are commonly expected to master course content on their own. However, multiple research studies have found that many university students are commonly unaware of, and seldom use, effective learning techniques.1,2 In the following section (and the linked pages below) we discuss important do’s and don’ts of successful learning, plus introduce several of the most promising and effective evidence-based learning methods. These are backed by a growing body of learning science research – a substantial portion of which has been conducted right here at UCSD and in this very department. By taking advantage of these methods, students can transform their learning activities to be more efficient (make better use of time) and more effective (resulting in learning that is more comprehensive and lasts longer).
Psychology courses, as well as those in many other departments and at other universities, revolve around high-stakes tests (for example, midterms, final exams). In fact, on average, 80% of the course grade in PSYC classes at UCSD is determined by exam performance.3 In order to perform well on such exams, it is crucial for students to master a wide range of course content.
How can that objective be accomplished? Through the use of evidence-based learning methods. Note that these are not described as “study methods”. Although it is common to describe preparing for an exam as “studying”, which is why this page is titled as such, simply “studying” information multiple times (“restudying”, “rereading”, or “reviewing”) is by itself often not very effective.4,5 Instead, as described below, other methods are far more powerful at improving the learning of course content.
If you have only limited time to read this page, at least check out the following two points. For
further details, click on the links to learn more.
Based on decades of learning science research, the two most effective methods known to date are:
► Further information: Spaced Practice
► Further information: Retrieval Practice
Spaced practice involves when you should “study” and retrieval practice involves how you should “study”. When you use both (for instance, you can prepare for your exams using a spaced practice schedule and then use retrieval practice during each session), they make a powerful combination.
Additionally, if you perform retrieval practice across multiple days – and, each time, practice recalling information until you attain 100% accuracy (a method called successive relearning) – then recent research shows that your ability to retain that information over long periods of time is maximized.6
Finally, besides spaced and retrieval practice, there are some additional learning techniques that you may wish to try. These included interleaved practice, self-explanation, and others.
► Further information: Other Learning Techniques