You may hear the word "cramming" get thrown around a lot before tests, midterms, and during Week 9 at Dartmouth in general. Students flipping through text books, looking over sticky notes, and highlighting "important" portions of text as fast as they can. But as you may already know, "cramming" isn't the best for learning. 1
Research says spacing out sub-topics you're learning is far more effective than learning the whole topic at once, and using flashcards, specifically, helps the learning process. 2
Highlighting your notes or readings does not get as much of a great rating. "Going over" class materials is not as effective as "getting into" them, finds Maryellen Weimer, PhD, an expert in the field of effective study strategies. She points out that going over highlighted notes, in particular, is not conducive to prioritizing material in the way that you may need it. 3
"Active Recall" is one of the most efficient study strategies 4 It involves asking yourself questions and then answering them which, in effect, reinforces your understanding of the material. Weimer points out that although this is more time consuming than "going over" notes and readings, research maintains this is a more effective way to learn. So the next time you think about cramming, maybe try this instead:
- Ask yourself a question or a problem
- Give yourself time to come up with an answer
- Answer it, or don't, in which case you should re-visit the material
You can use Active Recall as often as you want. Right after you've learned a topic to days or weeks later. The best part is you don't necessarily have to be at your desk or in front of your books to do it! The next time you're walking around campus, or waiting in line at KAF, think of a question or problem and try to answer it for yourself. And as always, remember to take breaks, sleep, hydrate, and stay nourished, so your brain is well taken care of for learning.