Student engagement is indisputably vital to learning. At any degree of education, from elementary to the University level, material retention is a series of stepping stones that allow for knowledge to be built up. Education occurs in these steps within the classroom and increasingly through the higher spheres of research, as the independent work of the student. In engaging with material, the individual student develops a variety of study techniques and note-taking methods to assist with test recall. There are several key ways in which students should examine their study habits in order to efficiently maximize what they are remembering of course material. Although learning is a subjective experience and differs for every person, certain techniques are important for any scholar to know.
Many students manage their study time according to deadlines, and choose to study what is due next, or overdue. This strategy has evolved as students must always be thinking towards the next test, paper, or project date, however it is proven to be detrimental towards overall material retention. Deadline-oriented studying naturally results in a tendency to block off study time, or attempts to cram masses of information the night before a test. This method of processing has been linked with poor test scores and weak study strategies. “Low performers were more likely to engage in late-night studying than were high performers; massing (vs. spacing) of study was associated with the use of fewer study strategies overall” (Hartwig & Dunlosky, 2011). Although it is tempting to study only for the next test and only right before it takes place, this manner of convenience cramming is detrimental to improving student performance. That’s not to diminish the abilities of certain students to process large amounts of information in a short time, but the complete learning that takes place in that instance is a fraction of what it would be given time and a more sensible study schedule.
According to survey information gathered by Hartwig and Dunlosky, a majority of students participate in active reading, which includes note-taking or highlighting of text materials as well as taking practice tests offered in many chapter setups. This self-testing has proven to be vital to information recall, “Self-testing was a relatively popular strategy and was significantly related to student achievement.” In doing research the student as a reader is being persuaded of the author’s credibility and accuracy presenting information. Therefore it is important to view any and all work through this lens. Even if the task is merely comprehension or synthesis based, it is proven that students take better notes when they are asked to support an argument. “Relations between note-taking and self-reporting of strategies suggested a heightened awareness of strategy use among students reading to construct an argument,” (Hagen, Braasch, Bråten, 2012). This applies not only on the argumentative level, but also to the broader application of knowledge. “Compared to those taking verbatim notes or notes following the order of the text, participants who took summarizing notes involving the transformation of textual content performed better on a comprehension task,” (Hagen, Braasch, Bråten, 2012). In regards to actual understanding, then, it is best for students to alter their notes according to how they will again be able to draw information from the writing. This involves certain discernment on the student’s part about what the most important aspects of informative sources are, which comes easily with enough time spent in pursuit of an education.
The findings of this study correlated with previous research efforts in the same field, proving that, “superficial strategies that involve repetition or close paraphrasing of text information are associated with poorer learning and comprehension,” (Hagen, Braasch, Bråten, 2012). Many students have difficulty with verbatim memorization of lectures or what is presented in a textbook. This is where active note-taking becomes an asset to the learning process. Students who are able to synthesize information in a way that will make it accessible to them for future reference, through personalized methods of highlighting, underlining, or otherwise marking primary source text have a much easier time when it comes to testing.
Learning is not just about retention. It reflects students’ ability to apply, evaluate, create, and communicate information that they are taught, (Persky, Alford, Kyle, 2013). Much of that is reflected in their ability to teach material to others, or to enter the teacher role within their own studies and test themselves. Certain programs have recognized this and capitalize upon the opportunity to plan lessons around it, “We ask students to teach each other through in-class presentations or cooperative learning strategies. We ask students to serve as peer-tutors or teaching assistants,” (Persky, Alford, Kyle, 2013). In order for a student to have complete confidence in what they are learning, they should feasibly be able to communicate the material as it is presented fresh to others. In this way a student becomes completely accountable for their own extent of knowledge of a subject before the day of the test.
This brings up the question of whether learning strategies themselves can be taught. A 2013 study conducted by Persky, Alford, and Kyle found that “Most students, past and present, did not learn learning strategies in a formal setting; they developed or used learning strategies that seemed natural.” While this natural learning strategy may seem like the only sensible way, after all every student is different, it leaves some behind. Students who are not able to adapt to new materials and discover their own strategies oftentimes struggle in particular areas or courses, and require extra assistance to keep up. This is not unusual, however it creates problems and divisions between the way students are treated within the educational system. For example, a student who is naturally able to read and answer comprehension questions does not learn the same way as one who can memorize exact dates and formulas without problem. Yet there is a universal testing method that holds both students accountable for understanding a particular amount of information before they are able to proceed to the next level of learning. From high school and throughout college, students are asked to evaluate, solve a problem set, write a summary or respond to material. These pressures combined with sets of deadlines create a stressful environment of what can seem like constant demand on the student. The responsibility to find new ways to process that information shifts to the student as they reach higher grades of education, and it is important that they be able to adapt their thinking accordingly. That is so even with a multitude of assignments due as well as a plethora of other stresses, a student remains focused on the end goal of an education.
In the pursuit of higher education, students must be able to question both their teachers and themselves. They must learn which study strategies best suit their own method of learning, and tailor these methods according to what information they are asked to comprehend. It has been proven that active note-taking is one of the most effective ways to learn new material, although there is no formula for how that should be applied outside of the individual. In order for a student to be equipped to learn, they should have a clear idea of how they can self-assess the information presented, and discern for their own notes the best manner of organization. It is clear that receiving the most out of your education goes beyond perfect attendance and completion of homework assignments; it requires focus and engagement even between testing periods. In this way, learning becomes a personal goal rather than an institutional expectation. Although it is different for each individual, study habits such as cramming before the test and copying text verbatim have been repeatedly linked to low performance. As an ideally self-motivated learner, a student has many tools at his or her disposal with which to apply material beyond the lecture and learn on a level removed from the superficiality of parroting back information on the test.
Hagen, Å. M., Braasch, J. L.G. and Bråten, I. (2012), Relationships between spontaneous note-taking, self-reported strategies and comprehension when reading multiple texts in different task conditions. Journal of Research in Reading. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9817.2012.01536.x
Hartwig, M., & Dunlosky, J. (2011). Study strategies of college students: Are self-testing and scheduling related to achievement?. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. Retrieved from http://link.springer.com/article/10.3758/s13423-011-0181-y
Persky, A., Alford, E., & Kyle, J. (2013). Not all hard work leads to learning. Am J Pharm Educ, 77(5), 89. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3687122/