The Right Way to Study

Do you know how to study? Yeah, that's obvious. But do you know the best way to study? Here's a quiz, from Chris Chabris' and Dan Simons' The Invisible Gorilla blog:

Imagine you’re taking an introductory psychology class and you have to study for your first test. You’ve read the assigned text, and now you three more days to prepare. What should you do?
1. Re-read the text once more each day.
2. Spend each day studying the text to identify critical concepts and the links among them.
3. Quiz yourself the first day, reread the text the second day, and quiz yourself again the third day.
Before you answer, don't try to guess what the right answer is, think about what you actually do. OK, now make your choice. (The answer is below.)

Do you know what you know? That is, are you able to make an accurate assessment of what you know (and what you don't know)? Let me explain. Take an intro psych course. You go to class, you read the textbook, you learn stuff. But how well have you learned it? With your gradually coalescing knowledge about psychology, do you have the ability to assess that knowledge? It seems like a paradox. Chabris and Simons call this the "illusion of knowledge": you believe that you have a better understanding of something than you actually do. This false sense of security is given by your feeling of familiarity with what you've read (and can be explained by fuzzy trace theory).

There are two ways are to get around this illusion. One, you take an exam. No, seriously. Exams (especially midterms) are not meant to be completely evaluative (judging your understanding), but are also formative (indicating what things need more work). Not surprisingly, students focus on the former at the expense of the latter. But exams can provide you with valuable feedback on your progress--as long as you actually check out your exams, going over each question to see what you did. If you just check your marks online, you're limiting yourself to the evaluative side of it.

The other way is to do what it says in choice 3 above. If you quiz yourself (before the exam) by trying to answer learning objectives or sample multiple choice questions, you are shifting the balance from evaluative to formative; you are giving yourself a chance to improve on weak areas before you get evaluated by an exam. Multiple quizzing can help you determine what's working, and what's not. Unfortunately, students tend to go with choice 1, even though it's more work with less of a payoff.

To put the quizzing together with the studying, you can apply the SQ4R method (survey, question, read, recite, relate, and review).

(HT: The Invisible Gorilla and research by Karpicke and Blunt, 2011.)

Why aren't you studying?


Anastasia said...

I think it's cute how the quiz assumes I would ever have the assigned reading done three days in advance.

Karsten A. Loepelmann said...

I know, right? Because everyone at University has it done seven days in advance. So there's, like, four extra days.

Anonymous said...

Oh snap 0_o

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