Researchers say they've pinpointed the two best ways to prepare for a test: spreading out the studying over time and self-quizzing before the big day. Surprisingly, other common methods, such as rereading and highlighting, get low marks when it comes to effectiveness, researchers say.
The team reviewed the current research available on 10 studying strategies and evaluated the usefulness of each.
"Schools and parents spend a great deal of money on technology and programs to improve student achievement, even though evidence often isn't available to firmly establish that they work," psychology researcher John Dunlosky of Kent State University said in a statement. "We wanted to take a comprehensive look at promising strategies now, in order to direct teachers, students and parents to the strategies that are effective, yet underused."
Dunlosky and his colleagues found that spreading out studying over time (in contrast to last minute cram sessions) and self-quizzing on the test material are both highly effective and have been shown to boost students' performance across many kinds of exams and across difference age groups.
Meanwhile, rereading, highlighting, keyword mnemonics and writing summaries were not very effective learning techniques and did not boost test performance for most students, the researchers found.
The report appears in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest. In the article, the researchers note that their recommendations might not improve achievement for all students and perhaps will benefit only motivated students who are capable of using these strategies.
"Nevertheless, when used properly, we suspect that they will produce meaningful gains in performance in the classroom, on achievement tests, and on many tasks encountered across the life span," the team wrote.