There’s plenty of good research on study strategies that promote learning. It’s also well-documented that students don’t always use them. As most of us are well aware, procrastination gets in the way of learning. Cramming ends up being mostly a shoveling exercise—digging up details and dropping them into short term-memory. But there’s also evidence that students don’t know that some strategies do more for learning than others. And guess what? Neither do some faculty.
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
When an exam approaches, virtually all students agree they need to study and most will, albeit with varying intensity. Most will study the same way they always have—using the strategies they think work. The question students won’t ask is: How should I study for this exam? They don’t recognize that what they need to learn can and should be studied in different ways.
For 10 years, I’ve been teaching study skills to college students, both individually and in the classroom. The vantage from my office offers me a clear view of students devouring information during tutoring appointments and focusing intently on the strategies shared during study skills counseling sessions. The effort and time they pour into comprehending their course material is irrefutable. However, when I ask students what they know about the lecture’s content before arriving at class, the answer is almost always the same: “Nothing.”
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.
By the third or fourth week of most courses, students have had a reality check. They have taken the first exam, received feedback on their first paper, or otherwise discovered that the course isn’t quite what they had expected or hoped it would be. Here are a few reminders as to what many beginning students and some others might be thinking at this point in the semester.
Unfortunately, all too often performance on the first exam predicts performance throughout the course, especially for those students who do poorly on the first test. Faculty and institutions provide an array of supports for these students, including review sessions, time with tutors, more practice problems, and extra office hours, but it always seems it’s the students who are doing well who take advantage of these extra learning opportunities. How to help the students who need the help is a challenging proposition.
Multiple-choice questions are not the pariah of all test questions. They can make students think and measure their mastery of material. But they can also do little more than measure mastery of memorization. Memorizing is usually an easier option than thinking and truly understanding.
I was inspired by Maryellen Weimer’s article on “Teaching Metacognition to Improve Student Learning” and the accompanying article by Kimberly Tanner on “Promoting Student Metacognition.”
Tanner reflected on a comment I have heard many times: “…it’s my job to teach [your discipline or learning outcome goes here], not study strategies.” How often have we heard that our students don’t know how to learn? Regardless of whose fault it is, Weimer’s article shows how relatively easy it is to incorporate practical “meta-learning” strategies into our lesson plans. It’s a no-brainer if a teacher conducts a structured pre-test review class, and a post-test follow-up activity, where many of the issues on clarity, confusion, and preparedness will be brought into the light.
When it comes to college students and studying, the general rule most first-year students hear goes something like this. “For every one credit hour in which you enroll, you will spend approximately two to three hours outside of class studying and working on assignments for the course.” For a full-time student carrying 12 credits that equals at least 24 hours of studying per week.
One of the student engagement techniques described in Elizabeth F. Barkley’s Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty has students predicting and reflecting on their exam preparation and performance. It’s a technique that helps students see the correlation between their efforts and their exam scores, as well as one that helps them assess the effectiveness of the study strategies they use.