Ep 158: Tired of Low Grades? 5 Ways to Raise Your Test Scores

Student Studying

Don’t be frustrated with low grades. If you want to know how to study for exams and get good grades then this is the episode for you.

I’ve got 5 techniques that will help you get better grades, develop effective study skills, and I’ll give you one very important warning about something you may be doing that you have to stop! Find out how to improve your college study skills.

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How to Study Effectively

There are lots of sites giving you hints on how to improve your study skills (including this article called Study Skills 2010: Not What You Think They Are). And here is the latest research on the topic:
The 5 techniques and 1 warning on effective study skills:

  1. Retrieval practice: don’t just re-study – test yourself (and test yourself in the same way that you expect you will be tested).
  2. Test yourself again and again – not just once per term. This repeated testing will help solidify the meaning of what you’re studying in your brain
  3. Explain what you’re learning to yourself (or a patient friend). Get up and walk around the room or talk to yourself in the car (people will think you’re on the phone). Lecture yourself on the material you will be tested on.
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  5. Distinctiveness: how is this term you’re learning different from some other idea? How is it similar? Figure out what is unique about the ideas you’re learning about.
  6. Personal: when you can, apply the ideas to your own life. You’ll remember it better that way.
  7. Warning: Beware of familiarity!! Just because you have read something before or heard it somewhere before doesn’t mean you understand it. The only way to know if you understand it is to….test yourself (start over at step 1 above!).

Click here to get these study techniques and lots more Psychology resources on the PsycExplorer app for iPhone and iPad!

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Resources on Effective Studying

  • Interview with Dr. Daniel Willingham on “learning Styles”
  • Dr. Steven Chew, Samford University: How to Study Long and Hard and Still Fail…or How to Get the Most Out of Studying
  • Hyde, T.S., & Jenkins, J.J. (1969). Differential effects of incidental tasks on the organization of recall of a list of highly associated words. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 82, 472-481.
  • Level of Processing study: Shallow processing: “Does the word have the letter E?”. Deep processing: “Rate the word on pleasantness.” This forces you to think about the meaning of the word or to relate the word to your life, to other information you already know, or it asks you to create visual imagery.
  • Intent to learn had no effect – it’s good, but if you really want to remember things, you’re going to have to work harder
  • Deep processing resulted in better recall whether participants intended to learn the words or not
  • Automaticity: practice something enough and it becomes automatic.
  • Bottom line: you have to study actively!
  • Don’t waste your time: The best and worst study techniques: “

    The Journal News:

    When it comes to study techniques, highlighters, mnemonics and re-reading just don’t make the grade, according to a report released by the Association for Psychological Science. In the report, Professor John Dunlosky of Kent State University and a team of psychological scientists reviewed the scientific evidence for 10 learning techniques commonly used by students.

    Quizzing yourself and spreading out your studying over time (sorry, it’s the opposite of procrastination and cramming) can improve performance across many different kinds of tests, and their effectiveness has been repeatedly demonstrated for students of all ages, report Dunlosky et al.

    Read the whole story: The Journal News

  • More info on learning and mnemonics in episode 32 of The Psych Files podcast

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Comments

  1. Jenny says

    Michael,

    First, let me say I love you! I mean… your work.  I am an instructor and I refer to and use your videos often. You do your research, and you present it in an interactive, concise and engaging way! I think it is ironic that in talking about how we learn that you ask if you should be short and to the point, or go into more details. I understand you want to give people an idea of what they are going to learn, but the title of the post alone should tell us whether or not we want to take the time to watch or listen. You also provide a written summary that we could skim first to know what content will be covered. If a person just wants a “quick tip” or “quick answer” and just listens to the beginning, he isn’t likely to remember it later anyway. For those of us that want to learn, giving all the answers up front was kind of a let down. Anticipation and mystery are large variables in attraction, even in learning!!!!

  2. Michael says

    Jenny: I couldn’t agree more, especially regarding anticipation and mystery being important even in learning. Absolutely. Guess I can’t satisfy everyone…gotta give this some more thought. Thanks for your comment!

  3. says

    Hi,

    This was the first of your podcasts that I’ve listened to and generally I think it was a good one and will listen to more but there was one troubling statement you made when it came showing a “negative image” after learning something and how that improved retention and you used a gun as a negative image.

    It sounds like you have Hoplophobia, a fear of guns. Certainly a gun isn’t a negative image to anyone who needs one to protect themselves. So I think you need to look at your condition if you’re going to be doing psychology you should be doing it from an informed perspective not biased by preconceived assumptions about what others think of as negative.

  4. Michael says

    Michelle: I mentioned the gun image only because that was what was used in the study itself. I’ve never heard of “hoplophobia”. I wonder where that term came from. What are the originas of “hoplo” I wonder…?

  5. says

    Hi Michael, Thanks for the explanation of your use of the term gun. Now it puts into question the study itself. Actually to many Americans the gun is a postive thing being enshrined in our Bill of Rights so the whole slant could be exactly opposite that a positive image enhances retention.

    Anyway the wikipedia has a good write up on hoplophobia:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoplophobia

    This sounds like a future topic :)

    thanks for your podcasts, Michelle Ress

  6. AJ Jack says

    @Michelle until I read the Wikipedia article saying Hoplophobia came from the Greek hopoln meaning weapon or armour, I thought it might have come from Hoplon [sic] Cassidy.

    @Michael in the area of “Test Yourself” my sure-fire successful way to study for tests is do past papers. If for practice you do every question in every exam for about the past 5 years, you have not only covered a wide range of subjects to a reasonable depth, you also get a good idea of what the popular topics/questions are. If it is an open book exam, where you can take in any materials, taking in the answers to previous exam papers is a great help. It got me an HD on more than one occasion.

  7. Michael says

    AJ: I like the idea of using past tests, but “every exam for about the past 5 years” – that’s some serious test preparation – unless you’re preparing for the AP exam or the GRE. “HD”?

  8. AJ Jack says

    Every exam for the last five years equals about three exams worth because of the high number of repeated questions. The spread of 5 years ensures a good sample size to spot the tends in questioning. HD = High Distinction is a score of 85% or greater (at least that’s the grades at the two universities I went to. (University of New South Wales and University of Technology, Sydney)

    As you may have guessed I have now caught up with all of your podcasts (the Britt Blitz is over) and will have to find something else to fill my long commute.

  9. Michael says

    You sound like a pretty smart guy AJ. The “Britt Blitz” – I like it. If you’re looking for more podcasts you might want to try the Psychology of Attractiveness podcast, Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac (one of my long time favorites), and of course there’s always the TED talks.

  10. Cristian Stefan says

    I have to say those are some really good study tips, thanks for the help.

    But I also think you’ve missed something important, and that’s called … distractions.

    You need to keep that in mind in order to study hard, you need to turn of the cell phone, sing out facebook and what not.

  11. Cheri says

    Awesome tips!
    Also to go along with the getting up and walking around part… It makes sense, my Intro to Lit professor told us on the first day of class that she had us walk around to introduce ourselves to each other because when your moving around your brain is getting more oxygen and when your brain gets more oxygen you are able to learn more and absorb more information! (she said she read it somewhere, don’t know where though, sorry!)

  12. Michael says

    To add to that list of distractions: turn off twitter! That’s a tough one for me to do, but I do it if I really have to concentrate.

    As far as the brain getting more oxygen when you walk around while studying: makes sense to me.

  13. John says

    I LOVE your podcasts. Please keep it up!

    I am writing in reply for feedback regarding your method in presenting a topic such as Tired of Low Grades?

    The way you did it was perfect!
    You started with the summary so that we are satisfied with getting the straight info.
    You then continued explaining each item making at random summaries to help us integrate the info you gave at the begining.

    This format was SO good that I will “make“ my 13 yo daughter (she has consistently low grades) listen to the podcast because this poscast gets to the point at the begining.

    Keep it up!
    John

  14. Michael says

    John: thx so much! Glad you really liked the episode. I hope your 13yr old finds some helpful info for school.

  15. Jessica says

    I thought this was helpful but for me since I’m autistic it kind of makes it harder if I try to understand my stuff at a deeper level. I just don’t know.

  16. zeze13 says

    Hi! Actually I used to get high grades, but I dunno what happened. You can say I turned into a lazy person, but I have the will to change and I think your tips will be helpful to me.

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