As September comes to a close and makes way for October, it’s safe to say that the 2015-2016 school year is, by now, in full swing. The excitement and spike in motivation to buckle down that tends to come with the start of a new year is most likely starting to wear off, and study habits are already starting to slip as extracurricular activities and heavy workloads weigh on the minds of students and parents alike. This phenomenon (let’s call it the “Mid-Quarter Slump”) is a very real experience for many students, and is a strong inhibitor to the learning opportunities of those who don’t bounce back from it.
What exactly is it that causes students to fall into the mid-quarter slump, and what can we do to combat it? Simon Oxenham of Big Think provides the compelling argument that we’re never taught how to truly learn in our early educational years, and believes that a large contributing factor for a loss of motivation could be that our lack of technique in the learning process makes it less stimulating and more difficult. An article published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest discusses ten different learning techniques along with the researched effectiveness of each one. We’ll briefly cover some of the ten that you may not have heard of, starting with the least effective and summing up with the most effective ways of learning.
The techniques with the lowest effectiveness ratings were highlighting, the keywords mnemonic, rereading, imagery use for text learning, and summarization. Despite proving largely ineffective for long-term information retention, these are some of the most common practices taught and used in the education system today. The Keyword Mnemonic links phrases and their meanings to the sounds of the words themselves, and while it serves a purpose for memorization, it lacks the substance to convert knowledge into application and often doesn’t carry on into long term knowledge. Imagery use is a technique in which students mentally associate images with the text they are absorbing. While this can be effective for young students, the focus in older students tends to become more on forming the relationships with the images than the information itself. Summarization is shown as ineffective primarily because it does not help students retain for information-based tests, such as multiple choice. However, it has proven to be effective for essays and tests in which the student is not prompted with a possible correct answer.
Ranking in the middle range of effectiveness were elaborative interrogation, self-explanation, and interleaved practice. Elaborative Interrogation was seen as having moderate effectiveness because of its ability to prod students to critically think and ask why information is true and what conclusions can therefore be drawn from it. It is most effective, however, when the learner has prior knowledge of the subject, so this technique may not be best for a brand new subject to the student. Self-explanation involves the student explaining their thought processes in coming to their reached conclusion. This helps the student fully grasp the subject matter and their thinking, but ranks only as moderate because it can prove to be very time consuming. Last on the moderate scale is Interleaved Practice. This technique involves changing the subject matter being studied fairly frequently to keep the student from growing bored of or getting “burnt out” on any particular subject. In theory this seems as if it would be effective, but there is not much research to indicate it is a highly useful technique.
The techniques that scored the highest levels of effectiveness were practice testing and distributed practice. Practice Testing can be a number of different things, ranging from actual practice tests distributed by a teacher to making flashcards to study prior to a test. Testing provides a high-stress, high-stakes environment for students, and practice tests allow them to test their knowledge prior to the event in a much lower stress situation. This has proven to enhance their opportunity for learning and information retention greatly, as well as increase their test scores overall. Distributed Practice is the act of spacing out learning and studying into periodic sections based on how long you wish to retain the information. Studies show that only 10-20% of time studying is required in relation to the length of time one wishes to retain information. Therefore, if students study in a more spaced out and less time-intensive fashion, they are more likely to retain the information day to day.
Ironically, most students tend to stray away from both of these highly effective techniques and run in to problems. The method of procrastination and cramming in the days and hours leading up to a test (the exact opposite of distributed practice) will almost always lead them to “winging it” on the test, and they will have never had the opportunity to do a practice test beforehand. This perpetuates the stress that often surrounds testing and elevates the stressful culture of schooling that most students often feel in general.
Learning styles vary widely from student to student, but these proven techniques, when implemented (along with other techniques that work for you) will help you keep the Mid Quarter Slump at bay and ensure that you learn effectively!