Archive for the 'Studying' Category

Page 2 of 5

How to use Active Recall to become a Problem-Solving Machine

Don’t confuse recognizing information with being able to recall it.”
~ Adam Robinson, author of What Smart Students Know

What are some things we typically do when we “learn” or “study” during the semester?

  • Listen to your professor’s logical, organized explanation of a new concept and thinking, “oh ok, got it”
  • Read through your lecture notes while nodding and murmuring, “makes sense”
  • Do problem sets with the textbook open to the example problems, and plug-and-chug until the correct answer pops out

These things may make us feel warm and fuzzy, but the truth is, these things are embarrassingly ineffective when it comes time to put pencil to paper on an exam.

And tragically, they end up convincing you that you understand everything, until you show up to the test, where it feels like you’re seeing the material for the first time again.


Because all of these things are PASSIVE.

Passive vs. Active Learning

Think of what we typically do in lecture.

We like to think of ourselves like sponges: we’ll somehow absorb what the professor is saying as it washes over us like a warm bath.

But remember: the brain will always conserve energy when possible, so unless there is a specific problem for it to solve, unnecessary information is quickly discarded.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, and what top students embrace and practice on a daily basis, is what we call “active learning” (or more specifically the technique of Active Recall).

Active learning is just as it sounds. In order to truly learn a new piece of information, you need to somehow trick your brain into working on it, activating new neural pathways and building new connections.

If you put in short bursts of hard work doing active recall (solving problems from scratch), you can save yourself hours and hours of wasted time mulling over useless material.

Active Recall: How do we do it?

Step 1: Start with a question

This can be conceptual or an actual practice problem.

Do NOT look at your notes.

And do NOT review any problem solutions. (*Note: you will need the solution in step 3 though so have it on hand, hidden away.)

Step 2: The struggle

Struggle with it.

This is going to be tough, especially if this is the first time you’re trying to solve a particular type of problem from scratch.

Try your best, and guess if you have to. But again, no peeking at your notes or the solution.

Once you’ve given it your best effort, then comes…

Step 3: Check yourself

Bust out your problem solution and see how your answer lines up with it.

Don’t skimp here! You want to catch any gaps in your understanding and address them as soon as possible.

So find your mistakes, and go back and correct them.

Remember: finding your mistakes and fixing them NOW means that you won’t make those mistakes LATER on the exam when it counts. So the more mistakes you find, the better!

Step 4: Repeat at different time intervals

Studies show that the most effective spacing for performing this type of practice is…

#1 – Right after you’ve learned something

and then…

#2 – 2-3 days after you’ve first been introduced to the material

So for you that means the following:

After class for the day, immediately test yourself using active recall, when you’re still uncomfortable with the material. This is where you get the biggest bang for your buck, because you’re really forcing your brain to work hard.

Then, do it again ~2 days later.
So get out there, and start ACTIVELY learning your course material, and watch as your grades and understanding skyrockets.

(Feature Photo Credit:  Bryan)

Tom Miller is an engineer and physics tutor, obsessed with independent learning. He writes about unconventional study methods at WTF Professor, aimed at simplifying the learning process for engineers and technical students.

How to annotate your textbook

annotate tabs

It’s not just about underlining and highlighting.  Annotating is about interacting with the text.  How do you do that? Check out Understanding How to Annotate and when you want more come back to the Textbook Reading page and scroll down to the bottom for 6 resources on Marking your textbook, highlighting, seeing an example in Psychology and annotating!

Memory help for science, nursing and pathology students!

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 1.16.05 AM

How am I going to remember the Dermatome c6 location?  Get help with Medical Mnemonics.

Attention – Implications for Online Learning

The Science of Attention in eLearning Infographic
Find more education infographics on e-Learning Infographics

What should I bring to college?

Here are some suggestions from the University of Cincinnati for what you should feel free to bring and what to leave at home.  Well, I am certainly not bringing a 20 gallon fish tank, even if they say I can!  But do I really have to leave my water guns at home?

Use this list as a guide to check with your college as to what is suggested and what is not allowed.

Who knew I would need a shower bucket & shower shoes!


The Learning Cycle with Study Strategies

Get the big picture of what the learning cycle is.  Then see how the study strategies fit into the picture and choose which ones you want to know more about. All in one place.

Winning Math notes system

math in headEver get back from Math class with just a bunch of numbers and not a clue of what they mean? Get winning Math notes with this 3 column system: Key words/rules, Examples/Problems, Explanations/Descriptions.

Serious does not necessarily equal successful

Being a serious student never translated to being a successful student, because I didn’t know what behaviors were involved.

Student created Apps Study System

Built around Good Notes app, which lets you take handwritten notes and annotate PDFs. Ho’omano Pakele, student at the University of Hawaii, then added Web to PDF app and To PDF, so everything can run on his iPad. The only non-app is Zotero, which is a desktop research management system and citation maker. (Think being able to pull resources from the web, video, and slides all into one place for your paper!!) Then use the app PaperShip to get info to the iPad. Finally, tie it all together with the Google Drive app! For more info, contact

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 2.23.38 PM

Anyone using their smartphone to study for exams?

Studying by smart phonte

How Ricardo Aced Computer Science Using His iPhone

Written by an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Gerogetown University.  Included is Ricardos use of a wiki for review for exams.