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Science Says: Best Ways to Study


Learning How Best to Learn

The value in understanding the best ways to study is so that our children can learn to “study smart” rather than “study hard”. Instead of spending weeks using an ineffective study method to learn something they will forget in a month, isn’t it better to know how to learn how to study so that this information can be obtained in less time and retained for longer?

According to the psychologists, the top two best ways to study are:

  1. Self-Testing: Quizzing Yourself
  2. Spaced Studying


Examples: using flashcards for testing recall, answering sample test questions

Research Studies

In one study, undergraduates were asked to memorize word pairs, half of which were then included on a recall test. One week later the students remembered 35 percent of the word pairs they had been tested on, compared with only 4 percent of those they had not.

In another demonstration, undergraduates were presented with Swahili-English translations, followed by either practice testing or review. Recall for items they had been repeatedly tested on was 80 percent, compared with only 36 percent for items they had restudied. – Scientific American

Why Does it Work?

Practice testing triggers a mental search of long-term memory that activates related information. This forms multiple memory pathways that make the information easier to access.

Programs for Self-Testing

There are many programs available. Here are a couple that allow you to apply the self-testing practice on yourself:

Spaced Studying

Distribute your study over time.

Research Studies

In one classic experiment, students learned the English equivalents of Spanish words then reviewed the material in six sessions. One group did the review sessions back to back, another had them one day apart and a third did the reviews 30 days apart. The students in the 30-day group remembered the translations the best. In an analysis of 254 studies involving more than 14,000 participants, students recalled more after spaced study (scoring 47 percent overall) than after massed study (37 percent).

How to do it?

Generally, the longer the interval between the study sessions, the more effective the learning. For instance, 30-day intervals were more effective than one day intervals. The rule of thumb is that the study sessions should be spaced at about 10 to 20 percent of the retention interval. So if you want to remember something for one week, study sessions should be 12 to 24 hours apart; to remember something for five years, space your sessions 6 to 12 months apart.

Alternative Methods with Potential

These methods have demonstrated some promise but further research is required:

Elaborative Interrogation

This technique involves turning facts to be learned into why-questions to enhance learning.

More about elaborative interrogation


This is the practice of using existing knowledge to make meaning of new information. It supports learning in two ways:

  • by forming inferences beyond the provided information, extending and supporting own knowledge revision
  • by revising current understandings of concepts by comparing existing understanding with new information presented

More about self-explanation

Interleaved Practice

This practice involves alternating the types of problems rather than working on blocks of the same type of problems. This is typically relevant for subjects like Math where students tend to study one type of problem in its entirety before moving onto a new type of problem. Interleaved practice involves mixing up all the different types of problems and working through them in an alternating fashion. For example, instead of doing all the addition problems followed by the subtraction problems, alternate between addition and subtraction.


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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