Published: April 10, 2019
Educators have long understood that students need more than classroom instruction if they are to successfully master curriculum material; this is why homework is a staple part of elementary, secondary, and post-secondary education.
Some experts suggest that children should on average spend between forty-five and seventy-five minutes a day on extra-curricular study. Routinely reviewing the material being covered in class doesn’t just help students lock what they’ve learned into their long-term memory, it also helps them develop active memorization and problem-solving skills that will serve them well throughout their lives.
But researchers who study the psychology of learning have consistently found that it isn’t enough to simply spend time with the material. If students want to make the most of study time, they should use evidence-based learning methods that have been proven to improve recall and comprehension. As with most tasks in life, working hard isn’t the same as working smart, and the students who are most likely to succeed academically are those who use their study time most efficiently.
If you want to know more about how your child can get the best return on the time they spend studying, here are three strategies that are scientifically proven to help our brains retain information.
1. Spaced Practice
The principle behind spaced practice is a relatively simple one: if you plan on studying for two hours over the course of a week, splitting that time into four intensive half-hour study periods will yield much better results than a single two-hour cram session.
Spaced practice offers two key benefits: first, it allows a student to divide the material into digestible chunks of information, which reduces the chances that they will become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information. Second, going back to the same material several times throughout the week helps to encode the information into their long-term memory.
One way to help make spaced practice more intentional is by hiring a tutor. Having a series of set times throughout the week or month when your child is scheduled to meet with a tutor locks intensive study into the calendar and helps encourage spaced practice (you can click to learn more about our tutoring services and how an experienced tutor can help improve your child’s learning outcomes).
2. Retrieval Practice
In their book Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel relay an anecdote about a group of professors who, as part of a fire drill, were quizzed on where the nearest fire extinguisher to their office was. Most of the professors failed, and one of them, a psychology professor, was perturbed by his inability to remember such a basic piece of information. He went looking for the nearest fire extinguisher only to discover that it was right next to his door — despite having passed by it every day for twenty-five years, it hadn’t worked its way into his memory.
This anecdote underscores an important point about learning: being exposed to information doesn’t necessarily mean we will take it in. Learning is an active process, and simply re-reading is not enough to make a piece of data stick with us. Instead, students should focus on trying to retrieve information from their memory.
Retrieval practice can involve things like practice tests, cue cards, and the copy-and-cover method, but in all cases it should be geared toward finding and filling the actual gaps in a student’s memory.
Retrieval practice can be challenging, especially for students who struggle with memorization, which is why hiring a tutor can help. Our team of certified teachers provide in home tutoring in all subjects for students from JK to Grade 12, and because they all have real world teaching experience, they can help students master the kinds of evidence-based retrieval practice that will help them meet their learning goals.
3. Create Visual Resources
The human memory is an amazing thing. Memories that are locked away for decades come flooding back when we taste food from our childhood or see the face of an old friend because our brains form memories through association. Learning to study effectively is about unlocking the huge potential of our memory so that we can recall information at will, and one of the best ways to do this is through sensory cues like visual resources.
Have you ever noticed that when you are trying to remember a phrase or piece of information from a book, you can often recall where on the page it was? This is because your brain has locked away visual information to help you find it.
Creating visual resources that help you call up information is an important part of effective studying, so you might want to find a tutor near you who can help students come up with visual and other sensory resources that help them learn most effectively.
Ongoing research into the psychology of learning is showing more and more that our brain, like the rest of our body, operates best when we are able to strike the right balance between repetition and novelty. Helping your child find a balance of study practices that works for them is essential to long-term learning, and while many students struggle to master these strategies on their own, hiring a tutor can definitely help (you can click here to learn how).
All too often, potentially fruitful hours of studying are wasted because students are using inefficient study methods that simply do not deliver good learning outcomes. It is important to remember that, when it comes to studying, more is not always better. The best way to get good results is by using study strategies informed by the latest insights of learning psychology.