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Boston Tutoring’s 5 Study Techniques that Work (and 5 That Don’t)


Studying is an important part of all forms of education.

From elementary to college, to training at work, for personal hobbies, and beyond, studying helps. And while schools often encourage children to study, many schools don’t really ever teach children how to study.

While any form of studying is better than no studying at all, research has shown that an alarming number of students have bad study habits.

Your child should develop an effective study method early. This benefits them for all the learning that is to come in college and in the rest of their life. Statistics show most students aren’t prepared for college.

Boston Tutoring presents five studying techniques that are proven to work (and five techniques that don’t).

We’re here to give your child the advantage and edge to not only learn, but to learn well. We’re here to help them excel at whatever they chose to do in life.

Boston Tutoring’s Least-Effective Studying Techniques

1. Highlighting

Highlighting is a fairly common practice. It’s rare to open up a used student textbook and not find words in yellow or sentences that have been underlined.

Surprisingly, the results from many research studies suggest it’s not very useful. Studies have failed to find any difference in performance results between those who highlight, those who use previous highlights found in their textbooks, and those who don’t use highlights at all.

Some research even suggests highlighting can actually hurt scores for certain subjects where making inferences is involved.

Here’s the problem with highlighting: when students go over the material again while studying, they primarily focus on what’s highlighted and little else. There may be important details that weren’t highlighted. If the student doesn’t fully understand the material, there is no reinforcement or improvement of understanding. It’s just simple memorization.

Learning is not just giving the correct answer, but also knowing why the answer is correct. Highlighting is a technique that isn’t very effective at the latter.

2. Re-reading

Another surprise on the list is re-reading. The majority of students would say this is their number one studying technique. It’s actually not as effective as you may think.

That’s not to say that re-reading is waste of time. If the material is difficult and the student had trouble understanding it fully the first time, a re-read may prove useful. There is evidence in studies that suggest re-reading can improve test scores on more memory-focused tests (but not comprehension tests).

Re-reading is considered a less effective studying method because it is simply the most time consuming. In limited studying time, there are other more effective and quicker methods a student can use instead.

3. Summarization

Tests have shown there is a correlation between a student writing a good summary and scoring well on a test. But summarization tends to be a more useful technique for college students. The results for younger students weren’t as promising.

Simply put, a good summary will show that the student has a good understanding of the material and knows what is important to study. College students tend to be better at this because they have more testing experience from elementary and high school.

But most elementary and high school students tend to write a poor or average summary after their first read-through of material. They just don’t fully understand all of the material yet.

So if a student uses the summaries they write after reading each chapter as a study guide, if those summaries aren’t thorough, then their study guide isn’t thorough.

4. Keyword Mnemonics

Keyword mnemonics is when a student uses keywords and mental imagery in association with the material. For example, in music, you may have learned the treble clef lines EGBDF with the mnemonic “Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge.”

While keyword mnemonics can be effective in certain situations, the effectiveness is limited. Too many mnemonics will just confuse the student, and mnemonics are difficult to use in many subjects and material.

5. Cramming

Many students will do a cramming session a day before the test. The common problem with cramming is while it will help a student get through the test, most will forget the material shortly after they “crammed” the information into their short-term memory.

Cramming may help a student get a good grade on that particular test. But, the student will most likely not remember any of the material, as they didn’t properly learn it. They may even have trouble with the material again if it is brought up on another test later in the year.

Boston Tutoring’s Most Effective Studying Techniques

1. Practice Testing

According to many researchers, practice testing is the most effective method to help a student study. It improves recall and retention and helps a student with mentally organizing the material.

What better way is there to help a student feel prepared to answer questions about a subject on a test then by having the student actually answer questions in practice?

Repeated practice tests only increase learning and retention. A student just won’t have the material memorized, they will know the material and understand it.

Many textbooks include problems or questions at the end of every chapter, and also usually an actual practice test as well (some textbooks will put these questions and the practice test in the back of the book).

2. Distributed Practice

Distributed practice, or studying material repeatedly over short study sessions (average time of one hour), is a more effective method. Many studies show that students who use distributed practice do significantly better on tests.

When the student spreads out their studying and does it more frequently, it gives them more days to absorb the material. Just make sure that the time set aside each day is used wisely, and there is a sense of focus.

When learning a new skill or talent, the key phrase has always been “practice, practice, practice.” The same lesson can be applied to learning material. Repetition is key.

3. Flash Cards

Flashcards are proven to be just as effective as practice testing and distributed practice in research studies. They are essentially practice testing and a much shorter distributed practice combined.

Flashcards are easy to carry around for students. If the student has an extra five minutes to spare throughout the day, whether they are in the car, on the bus, waiting at a doctor’s office, even while they are brushing their teeth, they can do a quick five-minute flashcard session.

4. No Distraction Environment

There is no point in trying to study if the student can’t concentrate. An effective studying session needs to be a quiet place, with no distractions.

The television should be turned off, the phone should be put away, and if the student has friends over, there should be a focus on staying on topic.

If the student focuses on the material they are studying, then more will be mentally absorbed.

5. Organization of Study Materials

When it comes to notes, study sheets, homework and any other material the student may use, it’s important the student knows where all of these items are, and they are kept in an orderly fashion.

If the student is missing notes or a study sheet and doesn’t realize it, then there could a segment on the test that they become unprepared for, simply because they misplaced something.

Keeping everything organized in a folder or notebook will ensure that the student has everything they need to study and do well.

As with so many other things in life, each child’s preferred and most effective studying method will be their own preference. Studying in any way is better than not studying at all. Help your child find the method that works best for them. Boston Tutoring is also here to help as well.