students studying in library March 21

A Study-for-an-Exam Assignment

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To remediate the exam preparation study skills that beginning (and other) students are missing, most of us respond by telling students about those skills that make for good exam performance. “Come to class.” “Take notes.” “Keep up with reading.” “See me during office hours if you need help.” And most of us have discovered that this approach isn’t particularly effective. It doesn’t always work well for two reasons. First, students tend not to listen all that closely to advice on how to study when it’s offered by people who sound and often look like their parents, and second, it’s not enough to know what they should be doing. Students need to work to develop and refine those skills.

Consider an approach that might succeed where how-to-study admonitions fail. It starts with a first-year seminar program. A first-year seminar provides a perfect structure for this assignment, but it could be used in a variety of courses. In this first-year seminar course students get the usual instruction on learning strategies, but more importantly they complete an assignment in the seminar called a Strategy Project Assignment. It’s a “multistep project requiring students to plan, monitor, and evaluate their newly learned strategies as they prepare for a test in a course in which they are currently enrolled.” (pp. 272-3)

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students in lecture hall January 18

Interleaving: An Evidence-Based Study Strategy

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Interleaving is not a well-known term among those who teach, and it’s not a moniker whose meaning can be surmised, but it’s a well-researched study strategy with positive effects on learning. Interleaving involves incorporating material from multiple class presentations, assigned readings, or problems in a single study session. It’s related to distributed practice—studying more often for shorter intervals (i.e., not cramming). But it is not the same thing. Typically, when students study and when teachers review, they go over what was most recently covered, or they deal with one kind of problem at a time.


students studying January 12

How Do You Study? A Questionnaire for Students

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Good instructional decision-making rests on accurate information. And in the case of tests and exams, we should be seeking student input more often than we do. No, we aren’t asking whether they want exams or what kind of exams they like. We need to know more about their learning experiences associated with the exams.

We’re making decisions about exams mostly based on suppositions—how we think they’re studying. We rely on feedback provided by their performance. Those with poor exam scores didn’t study, or they didn’t use good study strategies, or were so stressed by the exam they couldn’t think clearly. Those reasons aren’t all the same—they have different instructional implications. Exam performance feedback is after-the-fact input. Feedback collected at other times can provide details that enable us to better use exams and the events that surround them to promote learning and improve performance.

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students studying in the library December 7, 2016

A Memo to Students about Studying for Finals

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To: My Students
From: Your Professor
Re: Studying for Finals

The end of the semester is rarely pretty. You’re tired; I’m tired. You’ve got a zillion things to get done—ditto for me. You’ve also got grades hanging in the balance to be decided by how you perform on the final exam. The pressure is on, and it’s not just this course. It’s all of them.


study group September 21, 2016

What Happens When Students Study Together?

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I’m a strong believer in the benefits of students studying together, even though students don’t always understand or even experience the benefits. Oftentimes the potential gains of group study sessions are compromised by student behaviors. Students will saunter into study sessions, mostly not on time, sit around, check their phones, and socialize. When they finally start reviewing their notes, the text, or the homework problems, it’s all pretty superficial. There are very few questions, explanations, or confessions of confusion. The most intense conversation takes place over what they’ve heard from others about the exam and their hopes that it will be easy.


yellow highlighted text May 6, 2015

Lost in a Sea of Yellow: Teaching Students a Better Way to Highlight

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A lot of students are in love with their highlighters, especially those bright, fluorescent-colored ones. They use them to highlight course materials, sometimes underlining whole pages of text. When I first saw a text so fluorescent that it all but glowed, I wondered why in the world somebody would spend that much time underlining. Later I understood it was really a cry for help. “I can’t tell what’s important, so I’ll just highlight the entire section so I don’t miss something.” Highlighting can be a useful way of interacting with text, but it needs to be done in a thoughtful way.


May 14, 2014

Is Rereading the Material a Good Study Strategy?

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Lots of good writing on the science of learning is coming out now and it’s needed. For too long we have known too little about learning—I won’t digress into the reasons why. We need to take advantage of this opportunity to learn more about this science.

Here’s a case in point. Most students (about 80% according to survey data) “study” text and other assigned reading materials by rereading them. Yes, I know. It’s a huge struggle to get some students to do any reading. We have addressed that problem here previously and you’ll find another good way to get students reading in the June/July issue of The Teaching Professor newsletter. But for this post, let’s consider those students who’ve done the reading and are now “studying” it to prepare for an exam. Most students do that by simply rereading the material.



May 8, 2013

Helping Students Understand the Benefits of Study Groups

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Would your students benefit from participation in a study group? Are you too busy to organize and supervise study groups for students in your courses? I’m guessing the answer to both questions is yes. If so, here are some ways teachers can encourage and support student efforts to study together without being “in charge” of the study groups. Be welcome to add more ideas to the list.


February 27, 2013

Crib Sheets Help Students Prioritize and Organize Course Content

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Most faculty are familiar with the strategy: students are allowed to bring into the exam a card or sheet of paper that they’ve prepared beforehand and that contains information they think might help them answer exam questions. I became convinced of the strategy’s value when my husband was an undergraduate. He and his engineering study buddies convened at our place the night before an exam to decide what they should put on the 4 x 6 note card they were allowed to take into a mechanical engineering course. They spent hours in heated discussion. They thought they were just figuring out what went on the card, but in fact they were sorting out, prioritizing, organizing, and integrating the content of the course. Their discussion accomplished that way more effectively than any review session I had conducted. Of course, being engineers, they decided on what they needed and then reduced the size so that when they got it on the card they needed a magnifying glass to read it.