How to Study Effectively?


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A photograph shows students studying.
Figure 1. Memory techniques can be useful when studying for class. (credit: Barry Pousman)

How to Study Effectively (OpenStax Psychology 2e)

Based on the information presented in this chapter, here are some strategies and suggestions to help you hone your study techniques (Figure 1). The key with any of these strategies is to figure out what works best for you.

  • Use elaborative rehearsal: In a famous article, Fergus Craik and Robert Lockhart (1972) discussed their belief that information we process more deeply goes into long-term memory. Their theory is called levels of processing. If we want to remember a piece of information, we should think about it more deeply and link it to other information and memories to make it more meaningful. For example, if we are trying to remember that the hippocampus is involved with memory processing, we might envision a hippopotamus with excellent memory and then we could better remember the hippocampus.
  • Apply the self-reference effect: As you go through the process of elaborative rehearsal, it would be even more beneficial to make the material you are trying to memorize personally meaningful to you. In other words, make use of the self-reference effect. Write notes in your own words. Write definitions from the text, and then rewrite them in your own words. Relate the material to something you have already learned for another class, or think how you can apply the concepts to your own life. When you do this, you are building a web of retrieval cues that will help you access the material when you want to remember it.
  • Use distributed practice: Study across time in short durations rather than trying to cram it all in at once. Memory consolidation takes time, and studying across time allows time for memories to consolidate. In addition, cramming can cause the links between concepts to become so active that you get stuck in a link, and it prevents you from accessing the rest of the information that you learned.
  • Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse: Review the material over time, in spaced and organized study sessions. Organize and study your notes, and take practice quizzes/exams. Link the new information to other information you already know well.
  • Study efficiently: Students are great highlighters, but highlighting is not very efficient because students spend too much time studying the things they already learned. Instead of highlighting, use index cards. Write the question on one side and the answer on the other side. When you study, separate your cards into those you got right and those you got wrong. Study the ones you got wrong and keep sorting. Eventually, all your cards will be in the pile you answered correctly.
  • Be aware of interference: To reduce the likelihood of interference, study during a quiet time without interruptions or distractions (like television or music).
  • Keep moving: Of course you already know that exercise is good for your body, but did you also know it’s also good for your mind? Research suggests that regular aerobic exercise (anything that gets your heart rate elevated) is beneficial for memory (van Praag, 2008). Aerobic exercise promotes neurogenesis: the growth of new brain cells in the hippocampus, an area of the brain known to play a role in memory and learning.
  • Get enough sleep: While you are sleeping, your brain is still at work. During sleep the brain organizes and consolidates information to be stored in long-term memory (Abel & Bäuml, 2013).
  • Make use of mnemonic devices: As you learned earlier in this chapter, mnemonic devices often help us to remember and recall information. There are different types of mnemonic devices, such as the acronym. An acronym is a word formed by the first letter of each of the words you want to remember. For example, even if you live near one, you might have difficulty recalling the names of all five Great Lakes. What if I told you to think of the word Homes? HOMES is an acronym that represents Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior: the five Great Lakes. Another type of mnemonic device is an acrostic: you make a phrase of all the first letters of the words. For example, if you are taking a math test and you are having difficulty remembering the order of operations, recalling the following sentence will help you: “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally,” because the order of mathematical operations is Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, Subtraction. There also are jingles, which are rhyming tunes that contain key words related to the concept, such as i before e, except after c.


Spielman, R. M., Jenkins, W. J., & Lovett, M. D. (2020). Psychology 2e. OpenStax. Houston, Texas. Accessed for free at


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