KSU professors developing ‘study buddy’

Audrey Fletcher

Students may think cramming — underlining and rereading material — the night before an exam is the best way to study because they use it effectively and receive a decent grade.

However, Kent State psychology professors Katherine Rawson and John Dunlosky have found otherwise. They have conducted research to find out what study methods are most efficient and help students retain information in the long-term.

“It’s a toolbox,” Rawson said. “There [are] different kinds of information [students] want to learn or are expected to learn. There [are] different learning goals, and so the strategies that are most effective, in part, sometimes depend on what you are trying to learn.”

Rawson said choosing the most effective study methods can be difficult because those that are good for long-term learning tend to take more time and effort, while those that are quick and easy produce poor long-term learning.

Rawson and Dunlosky said self-testing and spacing are two multipurpose study strategies all students should use.

Self-testing is the practice of retrieving information from memory, often using flashcards and practice tests. Rawson said students generally use self-testing to see what they do not know, but the strategy itself actually enhances learning.

Tips for studying

  • self-test using practice test, flashcards, and rewriting notes from memory
  • schedule study time
  • study in small chunks of time across different days
  • celebrate after completing exams

Spacing means studying in smaller sessions of time over multiple days, rather than studying for a long session on one day. For instance, students usually cram for hours the night before an exam — this practice is not spacing.

“If you had taken those same four hours and split them into one hour on four different days, it’s the exact same amount of time, but you will actually learn more and remember it longer just simply by spreading it out over time,” Rawson said. “It just involves a better use of your time.”

Dunlosky said their research goal is to develop auto-tutor software that would help students implement these study strategies.

“Often when something comes to mind, students just automatically think they’re correct,” Dunlosky said. “Everyone does this. It’s kind of an illusion we have. So, you get lots of overconfidence. Well, the problem with overconfidence is, if you think you know something, you’re not going to go back and restudy it.”

Dunlosky said the auto-tutor helps students evaluate the quality of their recall. If a student does not know a concept, the computerized “study buddy” reschedules the study of that particular item.

In order to develop the software, Dunlosky and Rawson have worked with psychology professor Sharon Sciartelli’s general psychology classes. Students involved in the study are volunteers, and they use the “study buddy” to learn the concepts from Sciartelli’s class.

“It’s real world,” Sciartelli said. “We’re seeing if the laboratory stuff is working not just on made up vocabulary and isolation, but on the real-world definitions that the professor is using. That’s the value of this. It’s not just in the laboratory anymore. It’s showing that this can pay off.”

Sciartelli said she gives Rawson and Dunlosky the materials she wants the students to learn and then is hands off. She does not know which students in the class are using the auto-tutor.

Dunlosky said they then evaluate how the “study buddy” is working by seeing how students involved in the research perform on the test.

Students who have used the “study buddy” have had over one letter grade boosts in their classes, Dunlosky said.

Eventually, he’d like to offer the “study buddy” to students as freeware.

“I am so excited to finish the technology and have it available for students that sometimes we want to progress faster than [the research process will let us],” Dunlosky said. “We want to make sure it is really working well, so it’s something they can use with confidence.”

Contact Audrey Fletcher at [email protected].