1. Find Out How the Student Has Been Studying(Teaching Tips). Possible questions include:
Did you read the assigned chapters before the test? Did you read them before you came to class, after, or just before the exam? How much time did you devote to studying for the test? Did you read these chapters once, or more than once? (This question provides a chance to review the old Law of Frequency, and to describe how repetition influences memory formation and recall.)
2. Check Attendance and Note Taking Practices(Teaching Tips). Assuming that the student attends class regularly, you might ask the following: Do you take good notes? Do you review your notes after class to correct obvious errors? Do you compare your notes with those of other students? Where do you sit in the classroom? You may also want to look at the quality of the student’s notes and suggest changes (e.g., leaving more space, use of topic headings, writing down of examples used by the instructor).
3. Suggest Healthy Behaviors(Teaching Tips). Ask how much sleep the student gets, how much they got the night before the exam, and if they are getting any exercise and eating properly. (This might provide an opportunity to review the effects of sleep on memory formation.)
4. Recommend Tutoring(Teaching Tips). If tutors are available, encourage their use. If not, ask if the student has tried studying with other students.
5. Discuss Recognition Versus Knowing(Teaching Tips). Describe the difference between going over material enough that one can “recognize” the material as very familiar and prematurely conclude that it is known and understood, and really knowing and understanding it.
6. Urge Self-Assessment(Teaching Tips). One easy strategy is to give your students access to an established and free study behavior measure (e.g., ASSIST) and have them use it to get a sense of what they are not doing. The ASSIST provides a profile of scores on strategies and alerts students to possible problems in their existing ways of studying.
7. Discuss Winning Strategies(Teaching Tips).
- Schedule daily studying and homework time
- Make lists of things to accomplish during studying
- Put off pleasurable events until work is completed
- Read the textbook (!!)
- Review the class textbook/assignments before going to class
- Create mnemonics and vivid mental images to aid learning
- Memorize the material through repetition
- Generate examples to apply the material
- Record information relating to study tasks (e.g., keeping a study log)
- Self-verbalize the steps to complete a given task
- Use chapter review questions to self test
- Use a study partner
- Review the items missed on the exam, including items guessed at
- Make an outline before writing a paper
- Check work before handing in an assignment
8. Advise Students on what NOT to do. Students who are doing poorly may try to improve by doing more of the unsuccessful types of studying they have been doing, rather than trying other techniques. Key behaviors students should avoid are:
- Spending too much time on key terms or summaries to the extent of paying less attention to other pedagogical aids (e.g., review questions)
- Highlighting too much text (i.e., not knowing what the important information really is), thus increasing study load
- Using chapter review questions (and their answers) as more content to study versus using them to test their own knowledge
- “Studying with a friend” where this does not involve testing each other, taking review questions, creating examples, or reviewing notes
- Listening to music, watching television, text messaging, or surfing the Internet while studying
9. Assess Your Own Students’ Study Behaviors. Correlate the behaviors with exam scores and identify what behaviors are associated with better scores. Share this with the students to help them modify their study behavior.
10. Do not expect a silver bullet. It is important to bear in mind that there are no strategies that work all of the time, for all students, in all classes. Different exams call for different strategies. It is possible that introductory psychology multiple choice exams require only basic study behaviors, whereas an upper-level essay exam will need different behaviors.
In general, instructors need to be cognizant of how much of the advice they give to students is empirically proven to work in an actual classroom rather than a controlled cognitive psychology laboratory study. Asking students to complete a study skill inventory after the first exam may provide instructors with a starting point to discussing study behaviors with students. Taking some class time to discuss the variety of study techniques, and then detailing what exactly is involved in each method, may be critical to helping students do better. We hope these suggestions prove helpful when the next student asks you how to study for your exams and that their performance improves as a result of your advice.