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Study Techniques, Part 2


We have reviewed some basic note taking and information organizing techniques. But how else, besides organizing information and connecting it to other information you know, can we remember the information for use later, such as on tests?

Practice tests:  Studies have shown that doing practice tests is one of the best methods of learning material. But where can you get these tests? You can make them up yourself. Use the outlines and notes from the previous discussion to create questions for yourself, either short questions on things like vocabulary or specific math problems, or else short essay questions for more complex topics. The Cornell note taking system would be useful for this as the column on the left of the page can be converted into questions that are answered on the right. Keep a Google document for each subject in which you can add questions throughout the semester that you think might be later tested on. Add questions from prior quizzes and (and study those quizzes). Ask yourself questions about the material as you read it, and add those questions to your running list of questions. Then later turn those questions into quizzes for yourself. If you study with a partner, you can quiz each other on the questions you compile. Avoid quizzing yourself on some matter that you just tried to memorize. You want to see if that memory of the subject lasts, so quiz yourself on the subject at least a few hours later, or perhaps a day or two.

Study Cycle Diagram

Hand write your notes and read them out loud at home. As mentioned before, the more parts of your brain you use to remember something, the more likely you are to remember it. So write out your notes by hand when creating those outlines. By writing by hand, your hand motion is using a different part of your brain. Thus, you’re effectively storing the information you’re writing into different parts of your brain. Later, at home, speak it out, and thus “file” that information in yet another part of the brain, the part that works with vocalization. If you can turn the information into a picture, song, or poem, or anything else creative, you will file that information in even more parts of the brain.  If you can visualize your notes, then you’re filing the information in yet another part of the brain.

MnemonicsMnemonics. Mnemonic techniques are ways to help you memorize a phrase or idea with patterns, such as songs, poems, rhymes, outlines, images and acronyms. The technique works for remembering information in both your short- and long-term memory. In law school, in one course, I listed all the key concepts I needed to know for the final. I then took the first letter of each concept, and arranged them into a sentence that I then memorized. When I took the test, I immediately wrote out the sentence and then referred to it when I needed to remember all the concepts I had to recall. I got an “A” on the test as a result and the professor asked me for a copy of my mnemonic. Other famous mnemonics are “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally” to remember the order of operations in math (PEMDAS–parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, subtraction), FANBOYS to remember coordinating conjunctions in English (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so), or “My Very Excellent Mom Served Us Noodles” to remember the planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune). These techniques do work. A famous study in 1967 by Gerald R. Miller found that students who regularly used mnemonic devices to study increased their test scores by up to 77%. There are several different types of mnemonics:  1. Music or rhyme mnemonics, in which you turn the information to be learned into a song (think of the songs you have learned by heart) or rhyme; 2. Model mnemonics, in which you create a visual model to represent some group of information, such as the water cycle or the parts of a cell; 3. Spelling mnemonics, in which the meaning of a word is remembered by its spelling (such as “the principal of your school is your “pal,” but the principle you follow is a rule”; or that “dessert” is spelled with two s’s in contrast to “desert” because a dessert has too much sugar (“s”s for sugar)); and image mnemonics, in which you try to connect the thing to be remembered by associating it with something memorable, preferably as absurd as possible. We tend to remember things more that are associated with something emotionally jarring. I had a class once memorize all the presidents in order by showing them a series of absurd images that connected one president to the next. In the final exam, every student who was present for that presentation got every president correct in order, with one exception in which a student reversed two presidents. I have personally found visualizing some ridiculous connection between two things to be a very effective method of remembering the connection.

Try to understand the information first. This connects to organizing the information that we talked about earlier. Information that makes sense is more likely to be remembered than information that isn’t understood. This is partly where discussion groups can come in handy. Talk to others to try to understand concepts, or search the internet for videos or articles that try to explain it better. In fact, teaching others a subject is arguably the most effective means of remembering that subject.

Distributed practice. Research has shown that if you spread out your studying to different times over multiple days, repeating important information at different times, rather than cramming all at once, you are more likely to remember the information in your long-term memory.

Next time, we’ll talk about additional memory methods that utilize multiple parts of the brain, including methods for remembering long numbers.

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