Psychology professors research the best study strategies

Grace Murray

Highlighting and rereading chapters in a textbook may not be the best study strategy for the last few weeks of the semester.

According to an article published in Psychological Science of the Public Interest by Kent State psychology professor John Dunlosky and associate professor Katherine Rawson, along with three other psychologists, common study practices students use, such as highlighting, rereading and mnemonics, are not effective.

“In essence, [the research] is summarizing the lay of the land on 10 different study techniques that students might use,” Rawson said. “We evaluated each technique on several different dimensions.”

According to PSPI’s article, the following are the dimensions on which each study strategy was evaluated: utility, learners, materials, criterion tasks, issues for implementation and educational contexts.

Each dimension could receive a positive, negative, qualified or insufficient rating based on the collected data, which would then determine the techniques overall rating of low, moderate or high.

Of the ten strategies researched for the article, “Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology,” Rawson said, only two received the highest rating: practice testing and distributed practice.

“Self-testing or practice testing allows students to evaluate what they know,” Rawson said. “Particularly when it comes to recalling information from long-term memory, self-testing is highly effective for long-term learning.”

Dunlosky said distributed practice requires students to break up the amount of studying the day before an exam by spreading it out into smaller increments on multiple days before the exam.

Study strategy techniques

  • Technique
  • Practice testing
  • Distributed practice
  • Elaborative interrogation
  • Self-explanation
  • Interleaved practice
  • Summarization
  • Highlighting
  • Keyword mnemonic
  • Imagery use for text learning
  • Rereading
  • Information gathered from “Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology”

Similarly, Rawson said, “It’s the same amount of time, but you get much more bang for the buck if you spread it out over time. It’s a much more effective method.”

Successful strategies, determined by Rawson and Dunlosky, are characterized by the understanding of material in a timely and cost-effective manner.

“We wanted to evaluate which learning techniques were cheap and any student could use,” Dunlosky said, “so you don’t have to have a massive pocketbook to do well.”

In order to come to these results, Dunlosky said he, Rawson and the other researchers, read over 1000 articles over the past two and a half years and cited approximately 500 of those in their article for PSPI.

“There is lots of data on study strategies, such as what works and what doesn’t,” Dunlosky said, “so I really thought the timing was right.”

However, the abundance of data on what strategies work best does not make up for the lack of data on why these strategies work, Rawson said.

“One of the limitations of these literatures on testing effects and practices is the research demonstrating the effects far out-paces the research explaining the effects,” Rawson said. “We don’t know a whole lot about why certain strategies work other than we know they have been proven to work again and again in testing situations.”

In the future, both Rawson and Dunlosky said they would be interested in researching the explanation behind these practices.

“As you learn more about why the strategies work well, then, hopefully, you can make them work even better,” Dunlosky said. “That’s the overall goal, the success of the student.”

For access to Dunlosky and Rawson’s article, visit the Kent State library or

Contact Grace Murray at [email protected].