7 Effective Study Strategies Tested by Cognitive Science

Pursuing a college degree is a challenge in itself. Over the past two years, it has been aggravated even further by the pandemic and the changing learning environment. In the context of remote and hybrid classrooms, teachers can no longer guide students through the whole process, helping them learn and retain information. Having received the basic instruction, students are mostly left to their own devices when it comes to a study strategy.

How to study smarter? The key to better learning outcomes is in the understanding of the cognitive processes that are involved in gaining and retaining knowledge. Here are seven study strategies backed by research in cognitive science that will maximize the efficiency of your study time.

1. Cognitive Load

Working memory isn’t limitless. When students face the requirements of an extremely demanding curriculum, they often feel overwhelmed. This affects their ability to learn and retain information.

Therefore, there is a need to manage cognitive load and control the number of complex assignments you’re dealing with at a time. To decrease your coursework, you can get some extra support and pay professional essay writers for essay writing. You’ll also benefit from joining study groups and engaging in collaborative learning. Group work allows sharing and delegating tasks to make cognitive load less challenging to manage. Another strategy that allows optimizing your working memory involves avoiding unnecessary distractions that often overload it.

2. Retrieval Practice

Since our working memory has limited capacity, we need to make sure that the information we’re trying to learn gets transferred to long-term memory. A lot of students resort to a passive review of notes and textbooks, but this practice is hardly effective. To be able to retain information, we need to recall it. When you review information, your brain only recognizes familiar content, which doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to retrieve it without prompting.

Active recall forms the basis of the retrieval practice. Its idea is to test your knowledge with the help of flashcards, quizzes, and any other available methods. You can create physical flashcards or use apps like Quizlet, Brainscape, or StudyBlue. With every new repetition, it will be easier for you to recall information as it becomes deeply embedded in your long-term memory. The practice is also effective in helping you identify your strengths and gaps in knowledge and boost self-assessment.

3. Mental Models

To boost your learning outcomes, you need meaningful engagement with the material. This involves active analysis, categorization, comparison, and organization of information. Cognitive science suggests the theory of mental models or schemas. With the help of these structures, we can organize information in the mind, connecting new knowledge to the information we already know. 

To apply the theory to your study sessions, try to draw comparisons and analogies every time you need to learn something new. You can create mind maps on paper or in specialized apps like MindMeister or XMind. This way, you can organize your knowledge of a subject and establish connections between concepts. 

4. Embodied Learning

The theory of embodied learning highlights the importance of physical factors in learning. These include eating habits, exercise, and sleep. The evidence suggests that they determine our ability to learn. 

Leading a healthy life requires some discipline and organization skills, especially if you have to deal with a busy schedule. Diet, sleep hygiene, and exercise are the fuel that supports our wellbeing and performance, including cognitive activity. Students have to follow an extremely challenging curriculum, which often makes them skip meals, substitute sleep with caffeine, and have no energy to hit the gym. If these choices are familiar to you, consider getting some academic help and have more time to restore healthy habits. Otherwise, such an unbalanced lifestyle can affect your health.

5. Interleaving

Interleaving is the strategy of performing sequences of different study activities during a single study session. Researchers suggest that this allows you to enrich the study experience by approaching the learning content from different perspectives and dividing study time into smaller and more manageable parts. 

How does it work in practice? Instead of cramming for a history exam for a few hours straight, use the time of your learning session to study for different courses. In a few days, you can repeat the same activity, enabling the spacing effect. However, try to avoid studying for two courses that might overlap in one study session to make sure they won’t create interference or confusion. 

6. Dual Coding

Multimedia has a positive impact on our ability to learn and retain information. Working memory uses two subsystems: one deals with spatial and visual information, and the other processes auditory information. Activating both of them when learning can significantly improve results. 

Enhance your learning by taking advantage of the multitude of available resources. Try to use as many different options as you can. You can combine text, images, diagrams, audio lectures, tables, etc. For example, create a picture or symbol that illustrates the new content when learning it. It also helps to organize the content schematically to get a visual representation of concepts and organize them in a structure.

7. Social Learning

People are a social species. This fact determines the necessity for social learning and cooperation for one’s progress. Mirror neurons link perception and action according to common coding theory in cognitive psychology. This means that you learn both when you act and when you observe someone else performing the same action. 

By joining a study group, you can use this effect to reinforce your learning and support cognitive processes in the brain. Among numerous benefits, it promotes better understanding, active participation, and a sense of responsibility. Learning experience might be different for each person as all students have different interests and strategies, but group work fosters active engagement with the material and motivates students to participate and contribute to the progress of a team. The combination of ideas and perspectives, discussions, and learning from peers make even the most challenging subjects easier to grasp. 

To Sum Up

Cognitive science theories have inspired many learning strategies that allow boosting your outcomes. Use them to figure out what works best for you and get the most out of your study time. Applying the principle of cognitive science, you can boost memorization, information processing, and long-term retention.

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