One of the perks of buying your self-study materials is that you can WRITE in them, right? Just go to town with the ubiquitous yellow highlighter and the next thing you know, only words like “the”, “and” and “to” are left untouched. And you feel like you’re studying hard—wringing the most out of the text in preparation for your exam.
The truth is that the more you underline the less you know exactly what you need to remember. In 2013, five psychology professors from the University of Virginia, the University of Wisconsin, Kent State University and Duke University collaborated to test ten different learning strategies to determine what works and what only feels like it works. In case you were wondering, this is where you retire your highlighter and pick up some flashcards.
The report, “Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology”, published in the journal of the Association for Psychological Science, Psychological Science in the Public Interest, cites distributed practice and practice testing as the most effective study methods, receiving the highest overall utility ratings.
So, let’s break this down. Distributed practice means you study for short sessions over a longer period of time—no cramming. Practice tests are exactly that, but there is more than one way for you to skin this particular cat: Flashcard drills. The study points out that the simple act of recalling information reinforces that knowledge and helps with later recall.
Additionally, flashcards can effectively take complex material and break it down in to digestible segments, making the information easier to learn; Translation: the more you practice, the better prepared you are. If you combine traditional practice tests with flashcards, then you have a winning strategy that both familiarizes you with the exam format and allows you to target areas of difficulty with additional drills.