I was putting this together for parents and thought I might as well stick it up here in the hope that it may be useful to others.
With Christmas exams just around the corner for most students, it’s time to issue a reminder that when it comes to studying, most of us do not spend our time effectively.
I am putting together a document listing the key aspects of effective study (and just as importantly, what doesn’t work) and will forward it on when complete.
In the meantime I just want to stress what doesn’t work: rewriting notes of any description should not be confused with learning; it may be first step, but then you need to follow up with a technique that does work.
I say this because most of the homework we set simply requires students to find the relevant information from their textbook and then write this information into their copy.
And then we put a tick beside their correct answer, implying that this has been a worthwhile exercise.
It has not.
Information has merely been copied from one page to another, bypassing (in the main) the brain en route.
This is the single greatest waste of time that we as teachers tacitly encourage.
The funny thing is, if a student is found copying another student’s work they get in trouble, yet in effect this is all they are doing when using the textbook anyway – so why do we bother? Much more effective would be for us to give students much fewer questions, but to have to learn the information rather than just write it down.
The single greatest way to learn is by testing yourself.
There are a myriad number of different ways this can be achieved, but chances are that if you’re not testing yourself then you’re not engaged in committing the information to long-term memory.
Not all school-work is about memorisation; a lot of it is about learning new skills, and how to do that effectively depends on the skill, but the bottom line is still the same; if you’re not testing yourself then you’re not likely to remember it.
Secondly, a student has no business studying for more than about 20 minutes at a go. After this they need to take a short break.
At the beginning of the session they need to clearly lay out what they hope to accomplish during that session.
And at the end of that 20 minutes they need to review their work and determine whether or not they have learnt anything during that time.
How do they do this? Test themselves.
If you are allowed to be part of this process, you don’t need to be an expert in the subject area. Just discuss with the student what the objective for the next 20 minutes is, and then help with testing the student at the end.
The student then gets a short break to check de facebuks or whatever, then gets back to work (all distractions once again removed).
Much more on what does (and doesn’t) constitute effective study is to be found on my betterteaching.ie site: