Study smarter, not harder

Our prompt this week for our blog post is to describe two or more techniques that I would like to incorporate as a graduate student to help me learn effectively. Chapter 7 of our textbook, Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience, contains a section on how to study more effectively and provided six tips: “elaborate, generate and test, organize, take breaks, match learning and testing conditions, and avoid ‘illusions of learning'” (Goldstein, 2011, p. 187). For myself, I would like to focus on organizing, taking breaks, and avoiding “illusions of learning.”


Organizing involves creating a framework for the material that you want to learn and helps mitigate the amount of information one has to remember. Chunking, or taking smaller bits of information and grouping them into larger ones that relate to each other increases our memory (Goldstein, 2011). There are many different types of organizing that  a student can incorporate into study techniques. For example when reading an article, taking notes while reading or making an outline of the article will help make connections with previously read and learned material. Those connections will help to encode the material deeper in my memory so that I can later retrieve it when needed. For myself, I want to become better at organizing the material that I read. I think that if I organize it when I am reading it will help me to make better sense of what I’m reading as well as lessen my feelings of being overwhelmed when presented with so much new information at one time. An added benefit of organization is that I can review my notes or outlines at a later date to refresh my memory on the topic.

Taking Breaks

According to Goldstein (2011) and research that he cites within the chapter , studying in short spurts with breaks between study times aids memory. Reder and Anderson (1982) and Smith and Rothkopf (1984) coined this technique as the spacing effect (as cited in Goldstein, 2011, p. 188). Research undertaken on the advantages of the spacing effect shows that information that is learned spread out over time is better remembered than information crammed together into one long session and that the information learned creates a stronger, longer-lasting memory (Sisti, Glass, & Shors, 2007). Goldstein (2011) also points out the benefits of sleep and how after studying, taking a nap or going to sleep for the night allows the brain needed time to process and consolidate the information into a strong memory. Instead of me attempting to cram all of my studying into one or two long days, it is better for me to study for short periods each day, multiple times a day. Also, I need to remember that sleep is necessary for memory consolidation and that getting rest throughout the day and at night is most likely the best technique to help me study most effectively.

Avoid “illusions of learning”

In this section, Goldstein (2011) discusses how rereading and highlighting can make a person believe that they are really learning the material when in fact, only relying on reading and highlighting supplies a person with the false sense of comfort, i.e., “illusions of learning” (p. 189). Rereading causes both familiarity with the reading and an increased ease of reading the material because you have already read it once; however, that doesn’t mean that the information has really been encoded into your memory (Goldstein, 2011). Highlighting, according to research cited by Goldstein (Peterson, 1992 as cited in Goldstein, 2011, p. 189), tricks students into thinking that they are actively learning the material but really, highlighting has become an automatic process that is done without conscious thought. In my case, when rereading and highlighting material, I need to take a more active role in my learning. I need to stop and ask myself what did I just read, I need to write notes in the margin of the material or take notes on a separate sheet of paper.

Overall, in order for me to effectively study, I need to stop and think about what I am reading. I need to take the time to organize my thoughts and put them down on paper. I need to space out my studying so that I give my brain a rest and can ensure that the information is consolidated. I also need to take a more active role in  my learning and stop relying on the comfort of highlighting and rereading that give me a false sense of security about learning the material. In short, I need to study smarter.

Goldstein, E. B. (2011). Cognitive psychology: Connecting mind, research, and everyday experience (3rd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Sisti, H.M, Glass, A.L., & Shors, T.J. (2007). Neurogenesis and the spacing effect: Learning over time enhances memory and the survival of new neurons. Learning & Memory, 14(5): 368-375. doi: 10.1101/lm.488707
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