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Good study habits

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Cognitive psychologist Stephen Chew gives guidelines as to which study habits work best. Some key points from his writeup are:

  • Always plan in extra time for assignments and plan to finish reading material enough in advance to allow for review.
  • Reduce or eliminate distractions while studying.
  • Shallow processing involve studying meaningless, superficial properties of what you are trying to learn, like mindless re-reading or memorization. The deepest levels of processing involve thinking about material meaningfully, interpreting the information and relating it to your prior knowledge or experience, or creating a mental image of the information. Deeper processing leads to better recall. (Chew gives strategies for engaging in deeper processing in the linked PDF.)
  • When you study a subject beyond the point where you can recall it successfully; you can recall it quickly and easily. So "overlearning" the material increases performance.
  • Studying in a group can be effective, but it is also one of the easiest ways of fooling yourself into believing you are prepared when you really aren’t. If the group norm is that everyone studies hard and uses good study strategies, then the group will succeed. If the norm is that group uses bad study strategies and has many distractions, then you won’t learn. Everyone should come prepared and ready to contribute.

Using these study habits can substantially improve your ability to learn the material in your courses.