Studying How to Study

Generally speaking, the goal of studying is to learn and retain the information although sometimes it is remembering just long enough to make it through the exam.  In both cases we want to improve our encoding and retrieval of memory.  Techniques may vary based on the final goal; we’ll focus on learning for retention.  If you Google “tips for better studying”, you will find multiple top ten lists and suggestions, our textbook provides six: elaborate, organize, avoid illusion of learning, generate and test, match learning and testing conditions, and take breaks (Goldstein, 2011, p. 187).

Our textbook, like most, is organized to build on information covered in previous chapters.  When reading a chapter I connect previously learned terms, definitions and lessons in a way that “elaborates” or adds to what’s already been covered.  The new information becomes easier to remember and the known information more useful because I am able to relate the two in a meaningful way.  I have a diagram of the brain that I add new functions to as I progress through the chapters, it makes it easier for me to picture the building blocks.  The brain is more efficient at recalling information when it is grouped together, grouping notes about similar topics will help with the chunking process.  I also take notes as I read the chapter; this helps me focus on the task at hand.  I also try to rephrase my notes into my own words to help me process rather than reading through and completely miss the meaning.

The idea of the generate and test method is that encoding and retrieval is strengthened when we are actively engaged in learning.  Completing a class lab generates individually relatable data and answering the questions causes us to think through our results and connect them to what we have previously read.  Not only are we engaged, but the learning process results in episodic memory that also improves recall.  In my statistics class; I complete chapter and lab problems and practice quizzes.  This work highlights areas I understand and areas that need more attention.  This is a better study tool that just re-reading my notes because I’m interacting with the data rather than passively reading.  Both of these practices help avoid the illusion of learning, that is thinking you understand something, but really only processing it at a surface level.

One study tip PsychCentral provides is to “Bring everything you need, nothing you don’t” (Grohol, n.d.).  The idea is to find and equip your study area in a way that is conducive to studying and limits distractions.  In my workspace I have my books and laptop, but not a TV or my husband to chat with; it is becoming natural for me to focus on class work there.  According to encoding specificity we benefit from studying and testing in the same space, recall is improved when performed under the same settings as encoding.  This directly ties to the study concept of matching learning and testing conditions.  We, as online learners, may have a leg up here; we benefit from being about to read, study and take out exams in the same workspace.  When taking class in a traditional classroom you generally do not spend extended preparation and study time in that room.

The most beneficial study techniques may vary by person or subject.  It is important to determine what works best for you.  Now I am going to follow another suggestion to enhance memory… take a break.



Goldstein, E. Bruce, (2011). Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience (3rd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Strauss, V. (2013, August 27). Study techniques that work- and (surprisingly) don’t. The Washington Post. Retrieved from

Grohol, J. (n.d.). 10 Highly Effective Study Habits. PsychCentral. Retrieved from

Cherry, K. (n.d.). How to Become a More Effective Learner. Retrieved from

(2011, May 25). 9 Awesome Study Tips For College Students. Huffington Post. Retrieved from

Chantal. (2012, October 2). 10 Effective Study Tips to Help Improve Your Memory. The Campus Companion. Retrieved from