The September issue of The Psychologist magazine is a free-to-view student special containing a feature (pdf) by the Research Digest editor on the journey from A-level to Undergrad psychology, including the following 9 evidence-based study tips:
Adopt a growth mindset. Students who believe that intelligence and academic ability are fixed tend to stumble at the first hurdle. By contrast, those with a ‘growth mindset’, who see intelligence as malleable, react to adversity by working harder and trying out new strategies. These findings come from research by Carol Dweck, a psychologist based at Stanford University. Her research also suggests lecturers and teachers should offer praise in a way that fosters in students a growth mindset – avoid comments on innate ability and emphasise instead what students did well to achieve their success.
Sleep well. A 2007 study covered on the Research Digest found that lack of sleep impairs students’ ability to learn new information. Twenty-eight participants attempted to remember a series of pictures of people, landscapes, scenes and objects. Crucially half had slept normally the previous night whereas the other half had been kept awake. When tested two days later, after everyone had had two nights of normal sleep, Matthew Walker found that the previously sleep-deprived students recognised 19 per cent fewer pictures in a recognition memory test.
Forgive yourself for procrastinating. Everyone procrastinates at some time or another – it’s part of human nature. The secret to recovering from a bout of procrastination, according to a 2010 study covered by the Digest, is to forgive yourself. Michael Wohl and colleagues followed 134 first year undergrads through their first two sessions of mid-term exams. Those who had forgiven themselves for procrastination prior to the initial mid-terms were less likely to procrastinate prior to the second lot of exams and tended to do better as a result.
Test yourself. A powerful finding in laboratory studies of learning is the ‘testing effect’ whereby time spent answering quiz questions (including feedback of correct answers) is more beneficial than the same time spent merely re-studying that same material. In a guest post for the Research Digest, Nate Kornell of UCLA explained that testing ‘creates powerful memories that are not easily forgotten’ and it allows you to diagnose your learning. Kornell also had a warning: ‘self-testing when information is still fresh in your memory, immediately after studying, doesn’t work. It does not create lasting memories, and it creates overconfidence.’
Pace your studies. The secret to remembering material long-term is to review it periodically, rather than trying to cram. In a 2007 study covered by the Digest, Doug Rohrer and Harold Pashler showed that the optimal time to leave material before reviewing it is 10 to 30 per cent of the period you want to remember it for. So, if you were to be tested eleven days after first studying some material, the ideal time to revisit it would be a day later. If it’s seven months from your initial study of the material to an exam, then reviewing the material after a month is optimal.
Vivid examples may not always work best. Common sense tells us that effective teaching involves dreaming up interesting real-life examples to help teach complicated, abstract concepts. However, in a 2008 study by Jennifer Kaminski and colleagues, students taught about mathematical relations linking three items in a group were only able to transfer the rules to a novel, real-life situation if they were originally taught the rules using abstract symbols. Those taught with the metaphorical aid of water jugs and pizza slices were unable to transfer what they’d learned.
Take naps. Numerous studies have shown that naps as short as ten minutes can reduce subsequent fatigue and help boost concentration. It’s only recently, however, that researchers have turned their attention to napping technique. Dayong Zhao and colleagues recruited 30 undergrad regular nappers and tested whether it makes any difference if you nap lying down or leaning forward with your head rested on a desk. Zhao’s team found that a post-luncheon twenty-minute nap in either position was associated with increased performance at an auditory oddball task (listening to a series of tones and spotting the odd one out), but only napping lying down was associated with an increased P300 brain wave signal during the task recorded via EEG – a sign of increased mental alertness.
Get handouts prior to the lecture. Students given Powerpoint slide handouts before a lecture made fewer notes but performed the same or better in a later test of the lecture material than students who weren’t given the handouts until the lecture was over. That’s according to a study by Elizabeth Marsh and Holli Sink, reported by the Research Digest, which involved dozens of undergrads watching video clips of real-life lectures. The researchers warned their results are only preliminary but they concluded that ‘in situations where students’ notes are likely to reiterate the content of the slides, there is no harm from releasing students from note-taking.’
Believe in yourself. Self-belief affects problem-solving abilities even when the influence of background knowledge is taken into account. Bobby Hoffman and Alexandru Spatariu showed this in 2008 in the context of 81 undergrad students solving mental multiplication problems. The students’ belief in their own ability, called ‘self-efficacy’, and their general ability both made unique contributions to their performance. ‘In learning situations,‘ the researchers concluded, ‘there is a natural tendency to build basic skills, but that is only part of the formula. Instructors that focus on building the confidence of students, providing strategic instruction, and giving relevant feedback can enhance performance outcomes.’
Other features in this month's issue of The Psychologist include: Charles Spence on his mouth-watering research into multi-sensory perception; Janelle Ward studies the last statements from those on death row; Psychologist editor @jonmsutton poses questions for psychology’s Twitterati; Thomas L. Webb on ensuring students get more out of taking part in research; José Cuenca offers reflections as a research student in psychology, in the first of a new series aiming to unearth budding talent; and Nestar Russell explores the early evolution of Stanley Milgram’s first official obedience to authority experiment. Plus there's the usual mix of news, views, and reviews. Digital previews of earlier issues are also available.
Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.