You’re (probably) studying wrong: Try these six science-supported strategies instead

Published by Robin Bailey on

Woman with long dark hear smiles as she types on her laptop. She is wearing a black sweater with bright designs and is wearing red lipstick. She is sitting in at a large wooden desk with her laptop charger resting beside her right hand. There is a large glass pane showing the parking lot and a tree with purple leaves. Closer to the camera is a paper that says "spanish tutor" with the student's name and hours blurred.
Spanish tutor Ivana Calderon enjoys building relationships with the students she tutors. Robin Bailey / The Mainstream

Disability and neurodivergence can make studying for finals — an already arduous task — all the more exhausting, but online and on-campus resources exist ready to help struggling students ace their tests.

Six strategies for Effective living infographic depicting the different strategies on a blue background accented using white and green.
Six strategies for effective learning. The Learning Scientists

Every student is different, and studying regimes should reflect those differences. “I don’t think there’s a single study method that works for every person,” says art history, literature and writing tutor and student Laura Pierce.

Cognitive psychologists agree with Pierce: “The science of learning does not provide an exact prescription for what to do in every situation,” write The Learning Scientists, a group of four cognitive psychologists, in their book outlining flexible studying guidelines based on decades of lab-to-classroom research.

Instead of one studying method to rule them all, TLS specify six studying strategies:

  1. Spaced practice involves multiple short learning sessions planned in advance — the opposite of cramming the night before your final. “By repeatedly revisiting course materials over multiple sessions,” UC San Diego’s psychology department advises, “you will be able to more effectively encode that information into long-term memory, fill in any gaps in your knowledge, and be better equipped to use that information on the next exam.”
  2. Retrieval practice can take the form of practice tests, flashcards and copy-cover-and-check methods, recalling materials discussed in class from memory, UCSD writes. This is one of the most effective strategies, especially when combined with spaced practice.
  3. Elaboration and interrogation facilitate fuller understanding of your coursework: “Ask yourself questions about how these ideas work and why,” says the University of California’s Learning & Academic Resource Center.
  4. Interleaving is “a process where students mix… multiple subjects or topics while they study in order to improve their learning,” according to the University of Arizona’s Academic Affairs.
  5. Concrete examples “are specific, real-life examples used to illustrate an idea,” says the National Highway Institute. “They can be useful in helping participants grasp abstract concepts because they present the conceptual elements in a recognizable text.”
  6. Dual coding addresses the cognitive load of learning through use of visual and verbal encoding: “Evidence indicates that use of images complemented by explanations enhances learning and recall,” says the University of Nebraska’s Medical Center. Draw doodles and diagrams alongside your notes!

The Sue Shaffer Library’s reopening introduced six private, reservable Study Pods alongside two first-come, first-served Study Rooms leftover from the original furnishing.

Bright green kid chairs surround a wooden table. Behind it is a wooded play structure. Facing the left of that are is a desk and chair made for adults. The floor has playful leaf patterns on carpet.
The Moody Room is an environment where student parents can occupy little minds while working on their studies. Robin Bailey / The Mainstream

Also new to the library is the Moody Room, a family-friendly study area “divided into two independently bookable spaces, each containing a standalone workspace and adjacent children’s reading nook,” including “a shared central reading area and play table for small children.”

A small army of student tutors are ever-present in the southeast section of the library, available to help peers with a wide range of subjects.

“I want (students) to be here,” Spanish tutor Ivana Calderon says. “I want to help as much as I can.”

  • Kevin: Math, physics and geometry.
  • Kassandra: Literature, history, psychology and art.
  • Joanna: Math, physics, chemistry and biology.
  • Hannah: Anatomy and physiology, genetics and nursing.
  • Ivana: Spanish.
  • Laura: Art history, literature and writing.
  • Luke: Math and physics.
  • Zachary: Writing, psychology, sociology, history and literature.
  • Kelsey: Writing, English and literature.
  • Rauchel (online only): Nursing.

Their current schedule is available online.

Accommodations aren’t special privileges; they’re required to be provided to you by law. If you need help knowing what to ask for, consider this list of accommodations and accessible technologies collected by the National Center for College Students with Disabilities.

NCCSD also has a portal to information about disability services and law, like what to do if you have a problem with an instructor or class. Finally, NCCSD funds and advises a national online disability cultural center called Disability Rights, Education, Activism and Mentoring. DREAM aims to connect and support “students to become leaders and agents of change on their campus.”

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