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See Inside Scientific American Mind Volume 24, Issue 4

Psychologists Identify the Best Ways to Study

Some study techniques accelerate learning, whereas others are just a waste of time--but which ones are which? An unprecedented review maps out the best pathways to knowledge

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Education generally focuses on what you study, such as algebra, the elements of the periodic table or how to conjugate verbs. But learning how to study can be just as important, with lifelong benefits. It can teach you to pick up knowledge faster and more efficiently and allow you to retain information for years rather than days.

Cognitive and educational psychologists have developed and evaluated numerous techniques, ranging from rereading to summarizing to self-testing, for more than 100 years. Some common strategies markedly improve student achievement, whereas others are time-consuming and ineffective. Yet this information is not making its way into the classroom. Teachers today are not being told which learning techniques are supported by experimental evidence, and students are not being taught how to use the ones that work well. In fact, the two study aids that students rely on the most are not effective. One of them may even undermine success.

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