Skip Highlighting And Improve Your Learning With Practice Tests

Forget the highlighting and summarising. If you want to study better, new research suggests that those common learning techniques aren't very effective. Instead, psychologists recommend two techniques that will boost your learning performance: practice tests and distributed practice.

Picture: English106/Flickr

Researchers from the Kent State University reviewed the scientific evidence for 10 common studying techniques. They rated five of them with a "low utility" assessment: summarisation, highlighting, keyword mnemonic, re-reading and imagery for text learning.

Practice testing and distributed practice (spreading out learning over time), however, were shown to be useful for learners of different ages and abilities, boosting performance over a number of criteria and contexts.

So the lesson is to put down those highlighters and pick up those flash cards -- and forget about last-minute cramming sessions.

You can read the abstract of the report from the Journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Improving Students' Learning With Effective Learning Techniques [Sage Journals via Science Daily]


    I can highly recommend Anki ( as an easy automated (and free) approach to distributed self-testing.

    Wherever I used to take a note, I now add a new Anki card. I run through my card deck once a day. Anki schedules cards to be presented at increasing intervals, so cards you already know well gradually drop off the list.

      Thanks CB.
      I'd looked at SuperMemo a while ago, but found it far too complex, buggy and it only ran on desktop Windows.
      Seems like Anki has done a pretty good job of solving most of SuperMemo's shortcomings - and for free.

    Awesome. Studying for the test to achieve THE result, rather than studying to understand the concepts and become competent in your area of study.

    Already happening in NAPLAN. Just ask any 3, 5, 7 and 9 teacher.

    Sorry for the rant. I am down on this kind of thing. I see it in my own students too (HSC English and Uni preparation for ESL). Students can do a test, remember formulae etc but cannot apply the skills in any other context. A real head banger.

      Should we instead look over class content every night instead of procrastinating and the like?

    How would one use this method to study complex material such as string theory?

    This article is talking about the choice of learning technique - not what you are trying to achieve with your learning technique.

    RTF Abstract:
    "Materials vary from simple concepts to mathematical problems to complicated science texts."

    "Criterion tasks include different outcome measures that are relevant to student achievement, such as those tapping memory, problem solving, and comprehension. "

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