- More than double the impact on students’ results than homework
- Nearly triple the impact of strategies such as teaching test-taking, and initiatives such as charter schools
Put another way, encouraging your students to study while providing your students with study tips can help improve their marks from a:
- D to a C
- C to a B
- B to an A
Sadly, many students don’t study and others are not shown how to study effectively.
Not only should you teach your students how to study; you must show them how to study well. Common strategies such as finding a quiet space and rereading materials may be helpful, but research shows that they are not enough. Furthermore, there are some popular strategies, such as highlighting, which seem to have very little impact at all.
What should you do?
You can start by teaching these 10 evidence-based study tips.
Our Top 10 Study Tips
PUTTING OFF PLEASURE
The first of our study tips is more about good habits than schoolwork per se.
One of the hardest, but most important aspects of studying is actually finding the time to do it and do it regularly.
You need to teach your students the value of self-control and delayed gratification. They need to put off those things they want to (play, TV, sports, etc.) until after they have completed their daily study.
Elite athletes and sports psychologists will tell you that visualization helps them to succeed – but only if it is done the right way.
You need to teach your students to visualize two different things.
The first involves visualizing themselves achieving their goal (e.g. achieving a B in Mathematics on their next report card). Tell them to add details to the picture (e.g. where are they when they open their report card, how do they feel, how do their parents feel).
The second involves visualizing themselves doing the hard yards to get there. Tell them to picture specific examples of how they put off particular pleasures and persisted even when they didn’t want to.
Re-reading involves going over material covered again, often by independently rereading material in a textbook, on handouts or in the student’s own notes.
Re-reading is one of our more controversial study tips because there are certain caveats in what researchers have learned. Research shows that rereading material once doubles what students retain, while re-reading it a second time increases retention by the same again. However, John Dunlosky led a research team that found that repeatedly reading material more than twice led to no further increases in retention. Re-reading works, but re-reading over and over again is a waste of time that could be spent in better ways.
It also helps students if they take notes while re-reading the material. A student who takes notes typically achieves 22 percentile points higher than a similar student who doesn’t.
Note taking has an even larger impact when students recall the material to make their notes (as opposed to looking at the textbook while doing so). They then check the accuracy of their attempt against the original text and repeat the process until they can recall the material.
There will be information that students must know and be able to recall. Rehearsing can help them. Put simply, rehearsing involves going over information again and again until you remember it.
Students will get more out of their rehearsals if they remove distractions (e.g. music, TV) and focus fully on the task at hand. It also helps to recite the material out loud and to chunk bits of information together.
If students need to rehearse large amounts of information (e.g. lines for a play), they should start by rehearsing just the first bit. Once they have that right, they rehearse the first and second bit. Then, hey keep building on from there.
Students learn pieces of information, yet they develop understanding when they start connecting those pieces of information together in different ways.
One easy way that students can do this is through using graphic organisers (be they pre-made, or drawn freely). These include Venn diagrams (comparisons), sequences (cause-effect, series of steps), mind maps (hierarchical classification), concept maps (a combination of different connections) and more.
There is a reason why people say practice makes perfect – because it’s true.
Students who regularly practice the things they have to be able to do typically achieve 26 percentile points higher than similar students who don’t.
For this study tip to be even more effective, students need to continue practising everything they have learned to do by mixing in random questions from past materials.
They also need feedback on their efforts; otherwise they may end up internalising the wrong thing. Most of the time, this can be as simple as checking the answers in the back of the book. However, if a student doesn’t understand why they got something wrong, they need to know it’s okay to come to you for help.
Self-verbalising involves students in stating the steps they need to follow in order to complete a set task. They can say the steps to themselves or whisper them aloud.
This strategy helps students remember the steps involved in a task, such as adding common fractions or doubling the last letter before adding –ing.
Students can self-verbalise at any time (i.e. as part of rehearsal), but they are specifically encouraged to self-verbalise while completing the task itself.
Justifying involves explaining why a given statement is true. For example, after teaching students about different types of mixtures, you may state that milk is neither a solution nor a suspension. You then ask your students to use what you have taught them to explain why this is so.
You can use this across subject areas. 2.47 is not an integer. Why? The word misspell has a double s. Why? The Neolithic era is often called the new Stone Age. Why? After looking at the periodic table, you know that a sodium atom has 12 neutrons. How?
Practice testing involves any form testing where the results are used solely to help students learn rather than to make judgments about students’ achievement.
Practice tests can involve completing review questions at the end of a chapter or having a study partner ask you questions with the textbook in their hands.
Practice testing in involves students in retrieving needed information, which strengthens the neural pathways that make future retrieval easier (much like how repeatedly walking the same path through long grass forms a pathway that makes subsequent walks easier). Therefore, getting questions right on a practice test increases the odds of getting similar questions right on the real test.
Practice testing also leads students to revisit and relearn – any material they got wrong.
Collectively, these study tips can help your students to achieve measurably higher results in a wide range of subjects.
Therefore, it worth teaching these study tips to your students.
However, as John Hattie noted, students perform better when their own teacher helps them to learn and apply these study tips within different subjects. Teaching students how to study cannot be done in isolation, with no involvement from the students’ actual teachers.
That said, it worth schools developing a consistent terminology for study tips across the school. Different people may refer to specific strategies by different names (e.g. some people refer to connecting information as rearranging material or just using graphic organizers, while other people refer to justifying as elaborative interrogation). Having some consistent terminology will help your students to connect the advice that different teachers may give them.
Beesley, A. D., & Apthorp, H. S. (2010). Classroom Instruction That Works, 2nd Ed.: Research Report. Denver: McRel.
Crespi, T. D., & Bieu, R. P. (2005). Study Skills. In S. W. Lee (Ed.), Encylopedia of School Psychology (pp. 539-543). Thousand Oaks: Sage.
Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willinham, D. T. (2013). Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive & Educational Psychology. Psychological Science In The Public Interest, 14(1), 4-58.
Hattie, J. (2013). Visible Learning: A Synthesis of 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. Routledge.
Purdie, N., & Hattie, J. (1999). The Relationship Between Study Skills & Learning Outcomes. Australian Journal of Education, 43(1), 72-86.