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Whether you’re a freshman battling the shock of college life, or a Business Executive returning to academic life, it’s always worth discovering some nice mind hacks that can improve performance and reduce exam stress.

Are you fond of using highlighters and rereading your books? It might be the time to change your study strategies, as a new study shows that those techniques don’t work.

In the study titled “Improving Students’ Learning with Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology” published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest this January, a group of psychological scientists set out to debunk common learning strategies used by students.

Results of the review provide staggering evidence on which strategies work and don’t work, when it comes to improving grades and minimising exam stress.

What Works

The study shows that there are two common study strategies that are proven to work for most students. One is practice testing, which involves using flash cards or answering problem sets at the end of every lesson.

When correlated with exam results, practice testing has been shown to enhance comprehension and memory, and also improves the overall disposition of students before taking the exam, thus reducing exam stress.

Another effective study strategy is distributed practice, or going through a lesson bit by bit, one idea at a time. While it has been long known that cramming for exams simply doesn’t work and just jacks up exam stress, the study has shown stronger evidence that show that spreading study content over a wide span of time is better than cramming. Data also reveals that the longer the lag time in between study sessions, the more effective the method is.

Finally, a new approach to studying called “interleaved practice,” where students learn new material and subjects alternately – instead of the traditional blocked learning method – proves to be effective. Interleaved practice helps provide variety to the learning material and thus stimulates the mind to remember more details.

What Doesn’t Work

Meanwhile, the study also shows that several study techniques used widely in the academe have little or no use at all. Among these strategies are highlighting and underlining, rereading, and summarization.

According to the study, marking text by underlining or highlighting adds an additional task to the student without generally improving text retention. The same goes for rereading and summarisation, which both prove to be ineffective and only boost exam stress.

Researchers behind the study said that even they were surprised with the results, as common review strategies like summarisation have been used by countless students for centuries, yet the data from the study reveals that these methods result to minimal effects.

Reorienting students and teachers

The report also revealed that ineffective study strategies have been used for years due to the fact that these methods have long been proliferated in education textbooks for future teachers. With such conclusive study, researchers are calling on educational psychologists to do independent reviews and reorient education students based on this breakthrough.

However, researchers were also quick to point out that their research is not the “panacea” for improving exam performance and is not the cure to exam stress. Though they identified three useful exam strategies, some methods had impact and yet work in other situations. Basically, what experts are telling us is that learning and studying habits can work for some, but not for others, and there’s no generally effective way that can encompass everyone.

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Paul Bailey

Paul is a highly experienced Business Coach, Mentor and Personal Development Specialist. He works with people to enhance business and personal performance through a process of supported self-awareness and self- development. Paul is the Co-Author of the book 80 Tips.