Psychology Melbourne Blog

News and Insights from the Science of the Mind

New study tips from cognitive and educational psychology

Edited by Jill Wright,

A research paper released early this year by cognitive and educational psychologists has some practical clues for students: easy-to-use study techniques that actually work ... and advice on some widely accepted ones that don't work.

You might start by throwing away your highlighter and creating some flash cards. A friend of mine who recently studied Mandarin highly recommends a computer-based flash cards program called Anki.

According to the lead researcher, self-regulated learning expert Professor John Dunlosky from Kent State University, some of the most common learning strategies used by students, including highlighting, underlining, summarising and rereading are the least effective.

He and colleagues Katherine A. Rawson (Kent), Elizabeth J. Marsh (Duke University), Mitchell J. Nathan (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and Daniel T. Willingham (University of Virginia ) found that distributed practice - spreading out study time over a number of relatively short study periods  - and practice testing - any form that allows students to test themselves, including using actual or virtual flashcards, doing problems or questions at the end of textbook chapters, or taking practice tests - were the most effective techniques.

The study supports research by psychologists Jeffrey D. Karpicke and Henry L. Roediger III published in 2005 on the so-called "testing effect", which showed that testing enhanced memory retention. They found that testing is a powerful means of improving learning, not just assessing it.

In another study in 2008, the same psychologists set up an experiment in which students were tasked with learning Swahili and reported in Science magazine that, "Repeated retrieval practice enhanced long-term retention, whereas repeated studying produced essentially no benefit."


About the editor, Jill Wright

Jill Wright (MAPS, AAFT, AICD) is the Director and Principal Psychologist at Psychology Melbourne. Jill was twice elected General Director of the Australian Psychological Society and established the APS Victorian branch Study Group Network. Find out more about Jill Wright.