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Study Strategies

Where, When, and What to Study

Eliminate Distractions

Before studying, distractions must be eliminated from the study environment. Distractions can take on many forms and can be as simple as hunger and fatigue or as complex as emotional problems. If distractions are affecting your ability to concentrate, it is more effective to eliminate the distractions before beginning a study session. Distracters compete with the course information and create mental overcrowding because of the brain's inability to absorb all of the stimuli in its environment.

Create an Effective Learning Environment

Finding a place free from distractions such as the television, telephone, Internet, computer games, and friends can greatly enhance your study environment. Certain areas of King Library, residence hall study rooms, department libraries, and empty classrooms are excellent locations to study and are typically free of distractions that interfere with your memory. Additionally, the study environment should reflect the testing environment. Therefore, studying at a desk will better assist in recall than studying on a couch or a bed.

Distribute Learning

Studying for several hours without a break is not an effective study strategy since information learned at the beginning and end of a study session is remembered more easily than the information learned in the middle. Therefore, shortening a study period will assist in better memory. As a rule, studying fifty minutes with a ten-minute break and followed by another fifty minutes of studying is more effective than studying for three continuous hours. Additionally, the shorter study periods allow mini goals to be set, which increases motivation and can also reduce boredom and fatigue.

Review Immediately

After information has been learned, immediate review is necessary. Reviewing information after the initial learning period will convert the information from short term memory to long term memory. If the information is not transferred to long term memory, the information will be forgotten. Most students forget 80% of the material learned within 24 hours, if the information is not reviewed.

Review Frequently

Studying course material frequently in order to avoid newly learned information interfering with the recall of previously learned information is essential. Dedicating 10 to 15 minutes each day to review your notes and readings will strengthen the “pathway” to the information and prevent the information from being forgotten.

Select Pertinent Information

It is impossible to remember every piece of information from your text and notes. Therefore, selecting the pertinent information is crucial for effective remembering. Depending on the course, the details may be more important than the major concepts, themes, and patterns. Deciding what material to learn and put into long-term memory will allow the brain to accommodate the newly learned information and prevent overcrowding.

Focus Attention

Focusing attention on novel material is crucial for enhancing our memory. When taking courses within your major, some material will be repeated throughout several courses. Being aware of the repeated information can provide a guide for where to focus your study time and energy. Focusing attention on the unfamiliar material, rather than the repeated information, will make better use of your limited time.

How to Study

Create learning representation: Learning representations also aide with recall by connecting ideas, concepts, and theories in a course. Learning representations also provide a visual image, which can assist in retrieval because multiple senses or intelligences are involved in the learning process.

One type of learning representation is a matrix. A matrix shows relationships between ideas. The left hand column of a matrix consists of repeatable categories that are found throughout the readings. At the top of the matrix are topics that weave throughout each of the categories. 

A second type of learning representation is a sequence. A sequence portrays a series of steps, events, or stages that occur in a predictable pattern or influence one another. A sequence indicates how events relate and are connected to one another.

Recitation versus re-reading. Recitation instead of simply rereading can greatly improve your recall because reading does not allow the brain to convert information from short-term memory to long-term memory. On average, 60% of the material read is forgotten within the first hour after reading. Rereading simply allows the information to become familiar, but does not provide a context for accurate retrieval. Therefore, reciting information will assist in converting the information to long term memory and will test the knowledge available in long-term memory.

There are several techniques for recitation. The first technique is to restate the content of each paragraph immediately after reading the paragraph. The recitation can be verbal or written out must be in your own words. The process of immediate recitation assists in converting the newly learned information from short-term memory to long-term memory.

A second technique for recitation is to create flashcards. Flashcards work well for language courses and courses where formulas and definitions are an integral part of understanding (i.e., science and mathematics). Flashcards contain a question on one side of the card with the corresponding answer on the other side. The process of asking questions promotes recitation and inhibits rereading, which provides a better sense of knowledge.

A third technique is to create a brief outline of a chapter or set of notes using the key concepts or titles and subtitles from the text. The outline provides a framework to recall the details associated with each heading. The process of recalling details for each key concept and theme tests long-term memory and provides a clear indication of the information that has been committed to long-term memory.

A fourth technique is to involve a friend or classmate in the learning process. Simply asking another person to listen to the recitation of information from a particular course will create stronger retrieval pathways in addition to testing memory. Additionally, involving many senses, such as verbal communication, in the memory process provides a greater chance of locating the information when tested.

Find a relationship. Daydreaming while studying is a sign that the information to be learned is not interesting. When the material is not interesting, attention and recall is very difficult. Therefore, making the material interesting is a key to successful memory. Asking questions such as how this information relates to yourself, how the information relates to something or someone meaningful in your life, or how the information can assist you in understanding someone else can help you develop a relationship with the material. By finding a reason to remember the information, you are better able to locate the information when tested.

Translate material into your own words. When students translate information into their own words, they have a better understanding of the material and are better able to recall the information. Translating a professor’s lecture into our on phrases and using the margins in a text to translate the readings into your own words are two translation techniques.

Create the big picture. Typically, students learn by memorizing bits of information that are unrelated. When learning in this manner, the brain is unsure of how or where to store the information and it becomes cluttered with random pieces of data. This clutter does not allow our brain to locate the information when tested. Therefore, consciously connecting new information to previously learned information aids in better recall because the information is stored in logical units.

Preview. Previewing a text can also assist you in making connections. Previewing consists of skimming the table of contents before reading a textbook and examining how the chapters relate to one another. Reading the titles, subtitles, and summary of a chapter before reading also aids in making connections. Essentially previewing provides the brain with a framework of general themes and ideas to connect the details. Additionally, reading the assigned material before class will provide a framework to connect the lecture to as well.

Make a connection. Connecting new information to previously learned information greatly assists in recall. When studying ask the question, “What do I already know about this topic?” and “How does this information relate to previously learned information?” The previously learned information could come from the introductory course for that discipline or from personal experience. By connecting the information, the material becomes more interesting and appears as a unified whole instead of individual units of information. Additionally, connections create retrieval paths in long term memory that assist our recall because retrieving one portion of a memory will trigger other pieces of information connected to it.

Mnemonic Devices

Mnemonic devices are often used when information needs to be memorized rather than understood. Mnemonic devices can improve recall when artificial connections need to be made rather than logical connections. However, mnemonic devices can take large amounts of time to learn, can be forgotten easily, and do not work when memorizing technical terms. When using a mnemonic device, the mnemonic must be simple and clear. Below are several mnemonic devices you may want to try. 

Acronyms. Creating an acronym for a list of words to be remembered is a common mnemonic device. Taking the first letter of each word and creating a word or phrase from the list of words can improve the recall of these items. FACE is an example of an acronym used to remember the spaces on the treble clef.

Rhymes and songs. Creating a rhyme or song for a set of material can enhance recall as well. This technique is especially useful for musical learners who remember best by lyrics. A common rhyme is: “In fourteen hundred and ninety  two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

Loci System. The loci system is very useful when a list of items must be remembered in a particular order or when giving a speech. The loci system requires visualizing the item to be remembered with a familiar location. For example, if trying to remember the United States presidents, visualize each president at a particular point in our journey to class. Start with George Washington in the hall outside your residence hall room and end up with Barack Obama sitting in your 9:00 a.m. class.

When using a mnemonic device, make sure that the mnemonic is well learned because during stressful situations such as exams, mnemonics are easily forgotten.


If you are interested in working with a Learning Specialist to better improve our note taking, test taking, or general study strategies, please contact the Rinella Learning Center at 513-529-8741.

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