How often have you spoken to a student with a bad test grade and heard “I spent hours” studying? Students often study in ways that don’t translate to retention of material. The research around student study habits indicates that the go-to methods of “read over” and “highlight” fail to effectively prepare students for exams and promote a sense of accomplishment with little actual retention of material.
So, what does work?
Pamela L. Bacon tackles this question in her paper, Effective Studying is a Science, Not an Art: Teaching Students Scientifically-Based Study Techniques. In it she defines best practices for studying and how to incorporate the techniques into the classroom. Bacon also identifies the top methods for material retention as: flashcards, elaborative interrogation, self-test, and spaced out learning. Scientific American published a helpful guide explaining these different learning techniques, which you can find here.
As a math educator, you can incorporate these methods into your classroom with little modification.
1. Give a short quiz on material learned in the previous class. Then provide students the solutions with the needed concepts identified. Or have students write out what they missed based on what concept was misunderstood or lacking.
2. Setup mini self-tests in your homework system. Creating these mini practice tests in an online homework system gives students the opportunity to practice working questions. Students should take these without using their notes to assess their level of knowledge of the material.
3. Have students pick a method from the Scientific American article and commit to using it before the next test. Create an assignment or discussion board to show students’ commitments. After the test, ask students to think about the effectiveness of the method.
4. Divide students into groups and give each group a problem to solve; have them try to solve it without notes. This gives students a chance to discuss ideas, which encourages learning, listening, and identifying areas of deficiency.
For more information, check out The Learning Scientists website.