Are you struggling to find the perfect study method? Are you having difficulty retaining information from your lectures? Are you often cramming before a big exam? If you answered yes to any of these questions, it is time to reevaluate your study habits and learn new techniques to help you succeed in your courses and future careers. As a student who has taken many STEM courses, I understand how time management can be overwhelming. How much time should I allot to each subject? Should I have studied more (or less) for that exam? I used to ask myself these questions as I struggled to find the right study techniques to achieve my desired grades. To study for exams, I used to spend too much time passively reading over and highlighting my notes expecting to retain every detail. This was a mistake.
Passive learning means to simply absorb information without application, which can be ineffective (it definitely was for me!). However, active learning consists of formulating questions, analyzing evidence, and connecting such evidence to pre-existing knowledge and drawing conclusions. Think of learning as a scientific process and apply your knowledge.
Why is active learning important?
Let me introduce you to the forgetting curve. In the 1880s, Herman Ebbinghaus, a psychologist, conducted an experiment on himself to study the decay of memory. He memorized nonsense syllables to test his recall ability and noticed that there was an exponential loss of learned information over time. His forgetting curve portrays that roughly after 20 minutes of learning, he could only recall 60% of what he learned. After one hour, he could only recall 45%, and after one day, only 34%. Essentially, information is lost when there is no attempt to retain it.
How can you fight the forgetting curve?
If you try studying during periods of forgetting, it can create a more permanent memory. One way to achieve this is to practice spaced repetition. Ebbinghaus stated that “with any considerable number of repetitions a suitable distribution of them over a space of time is decidedly more advantageous than the massing of them at a single time.” This message is for those who cram: studying in intervals will be more advantageous in the long run. The superiority of spaced learning can be explained by the study-phase retrieval theory: studying in intervals will elicit retrieval and reactivation of a memory that was formed by prior studying whereas cramming will not. In other words, cramming is not effective! Spaced repetition can be achieved by using active recall, the active stimulation of memory, over time. Consider using the following methods to strengthen active recall:
1. SQ3R Method
This method is beneficial to remember large pieces of text. It consists of the following steps:
Survey - skim the material for a general idea of its content
Question - create questions for clarification and self-testing. Do not simply memorize the material but apply it.
Read - actively read the text and answer questions
Retrieve (active recall) - test your memory by using your own words to recall the information
Review - summarize
2. Anki Flashcards
Anki uses spaced repetition to increase student performance. Anki allows users to rate the difficulty of each card after reviewing and based on that feedback, adjusts the frequency of exposure to that card. This technique allows students to spend more time on difficult cards and prevents cramming. To take advantage of spaced repetition, review cards daily! You do not have to spend hours each day studying course material, because Anki maximizes learning time by allowing you to study whenever and wherever.
3. Pomodoro Technique
If you get easily distracted, this method is for you. It consists of the following steps:
Pick a task
Set a 25-minute timer
Work on the task for 25 minutes
Take a 5 minute break
After every 4 Pomodoros, take a longer 15-20 minute break. (You can also work for 50 minutes with a 10 minute break).
This technique allows you to stay mentally fresh and focused. Although the Pomodoro Technique is not a direct form of active recall, you can use this technique to employ active recall methods. For example, utilize the SQ3R method or your flashcards during your study period of 25 minutes or 50 minutes.
I hope these techniques are helpful for you and good luck on any upcoming exams!
Thank you for reading,