The world of psychology offers a treasure trove of insights into how our brains work, and by extension, how we can make the most of our study sessions. If you’ve ever felt that your study habits aren’t yielding the results you’d like, it might be time to consider some evidence-based strategies from the realm of psychology.
1. Understanding the forgetting curve
One of the foundational concepts in the psychology of memory is the forgetting curve, proposed by Hermann Ebbinghaus in the late 19th century. This curve illustrates how information is lost over time when there is no attempt to retain it. The good news? Regular revision can help combat this natural decline.
Tip: Space out your study sessions. Instead of cramming all at once, break your study time into shorter, more frequent sessions. This approach, known as spaced repetition, can help reinforce your memory and counteract the forgetting curve.
2. Harnessing the power of active recall
Passively reading through your notes might feel productive, but it’s not the most effective way to cement knowledge. Active recall, on the other hand, involves actively testing yourself on the material you’re trying to learn.
Tip: Use flashcards, practice questions, or even just try to summarise what you’ve learned without looking at your notes. This forces your brain to retrieve the information, strengthening your memory in the process.
3. The benefits of interleaved learning
Traditional wisdom might suggest focusing on one topic at a time, but interleaved learning – the practice of mixing different topics or subjects – can be more effective. This approach can be particularly beneficial when studying subjects that have overlapping concepts.
Tip: Instead of dedicating an entire study session to one topic, mix it up. If you’re studying maths, for instance, you might switch between algebra, statistics, and geometry in a single session.
4. Mindset matters
Carol Dweck’s research on fixed vs growth mindsets has profound implications for learners. Those with a fixed mindset believe that abilities are static, while those with a growth mindset believe abilities can be developed with effort and persistence.
Tip: Cultivate a growth mindset. When faced with challenges, remind yourself that struggle is a natural part of the learning process. Embrace mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow.
5. The role of environment
Your study environment can significantly impact your ability to focus and retain information. Distractions, discomfort, or even the wrong kind of lighting can hinder your study efforts.
Tip: Find a quiet, comfortable space with good lighting. Consider using background sounds like white noise or instrumental music if they help you concentrate. Regularly changing your study location can also refresh your mind and improve memory retention.
6. Rest and relaxation
It might seem counterintuitive, but taking breaks and ensuring you get enough sleep are crucial for effective studying. Sleep, in particular, plays a vital role in memory consolidation – the process by which short-term memories are transformed into long-term ones.
Tip: Adopt the Pomodoro technique, which involves studying for 25 minutes and then taking a 5-minute break. Ensure you get a good night’s sleep, especially after intense study sessions.
Studying effectively is not just about putting in the hours, but also about understanding how our brains work and adopting strategies that align with these mechanisms. By integrating these psychology-backed techniques into your study routine, you’re not only setting yourself up for academic success but also fostering a lifelong love for learning.
Emily Clarke, PhD is a psychologist and educator passionate about helping students achieve their academic potential.