GUEST POST: Eureka... It Works!
By Ashley Bazin
Ashley is currently a junior at Rhode Island College majoring in psychology and minoring in French. She works as a research assistant in Dr. Beverly Goldfield’s developmental lab examining verb comprehension in babies, and she is preparing an honors thesis proposal in Dr. Megan Smith’s learning lab examining effective study strategies with first-generation college students.
I had the opportunity to tutor students in Introduction to Psychology last semester at Rhode Island College. I have never tutored before this semester, but when I was contemplating how to approach tutoring, I decided to treat it like a study group. I knew from personal experience that study groups have always been effective for me and those I’ve studied with. I also decided to use the information from the Learning Scientists posters so that the strategies we used during the study group were evidence-based.
For my tutoring sessions, I only required one thing of my students …BE PREPARED! Most of my students were freshmen, they were most likely still adapting to the collegiate environment and were working out their own strategies that would lead to their academic success. So therefore, during the first session, we had a discussion about their objectives during tutoring and any personal hardships they thought might make it more difficult for them to succeed this semester.
I always told the students that for the sessions to be effective they needed to study prior to our meeting. I gave them a link to the Learning Scientists website, and told them to look at the posters and use the strategies described there as much as they could. (I also wrote down the names of the strategies on a post-it, just in case!)
Preparing for Tutoring
We then talked about how they can effectively study on their own prior to tutoring. First, I suggested that they create an outline of their class/lecture notes and their textbooks for their psychology course. I recommended this so that the students had a brief outline of everything they needed to learn for their upcoming exam. Once they had an outline, I recommended that they work to make sure they understood each chunk of the material. I told them to take each chunk and summarize the information in their own words. I encouraged them to make connections within the material and to come up with their own concrete examples to demonstrate their understanding of the material.
Next, I recommended practicing retrieval of the information. I told them to use their outline as a prompt to recite everything they could remember about the material in their own words. If the student had a study guide, I encouraged them to use the study guide as another prompt to write out what they could remember about the concepts in their own words. In psychology, most concepts are intertwined. So, I did not recommend that the students use flashcards. I suggested instead that they write out what they know to encourage the students to make connections and come up with examples.
Our Tutoring Sessions
During the tutoring session, I went through each of the following strategies to help the students better learn the concepts:
Step 1: Retrieval Practice
I always started by quizzing them on the material. I printed out their course slides and asked them questions from the slides. Sometimes I asked them to describe a concept, and sometimes I asked them to give me a concrete example of a topic. I made sure to skip around on the slides when asking questions to utilize interleaving. I also asked them additional follow-up questions if the answer they provided was simple. I asked why and how questions to utilize elaborative interrogation. If they didn’t know the answer to a question, then I set that information aside and we used the following strategies to make sure they strengthened their understanding.
Step 2: Elaboration and Concrete Examples
During Step 2, we covered the topics which they were unable to describe during Step 1. First, we looked at the slides together, and I described the concepts to them in simple terms and in as many ways as possible. I then helped them to come up with their own concrete examples to describe the material, with the slides still in front of them. I also asked “why” and “how” questions to encourage elaboration and to make sure they really understood the topic (rather than just repeating information back to me from the slides).
We finished by highlighting the things that they didn’t understand, and I encouraged them to work with this material on their own before the next tutoring session. When they returned, we started back on Step 1 with the new material. I utilized spacing by also covering material from previous chapters and tutoring sessions to keep it fresh.
I worked with four students last semester, and all of my students passed their exams and the class! One of my student’s grade increased by 20%. They all told me that they felt much more confident about their ability to excel in their classes, and they intend on utilizing the suggested studying strategies in future classes.
Based on the research about effective study strategies, my experiences with my students last semester, and my own experiences studying, I can make a few recommendations about the best ways to study for exams.
I know it’s hard to not procrastinate, but it is a practice you should avoid. Instead of waiting until last minute to cram, it’s best to space out your studying over a period of time. I understand the worry of possibly forgetting the material; however, reviewing it a few times leads to better AND longer retention – that means less forgetting of everything you’ve studied after taking the exam in the long run.
DO NOT waste your time repeatedly reading your notes or textbook. You won’t remember or retain nearly as much as you think you will. Instead use the strategies I used with my students: break the material down into chunks in outline form and try to retrieve the information after you’ve read it once. It’s a more effective way of studying than rereading.
Create study groups; however, avoid doing it with people who you know will distract you – don’t spend your study time discussing the latest celebrity gossip or what happened between Fitz and Olivia in last night’s episode of Scandal. Also, do study on your own prior to the study group. The whole purpose of the study group is to fill in the gaps in understanding. You will learn a lot by explaining the material to each other, correcting misunderstandings, and sharing concrete examples.
Finally, this is not a study strategy but rather a testing strategy. It may be obvious, but I think it is still worth mentioning. TAKE YOUR TIME while taking the test. Quick anecdote, I boosted my grade from an 89 to a 98 by simply taking my time whilst taking my exam. I properly processed the questions and wrote side notes instead of quickly scanning the exam. Exams used to make me anxious, so I rushed because I wanted to get rid of that feeling as quickly as possible. I didn’t even bother reviewing my answers before handing in my test. Try to stay calm, take deep breaths, and think through your answers. Practicing retrieval during study might even give you more confidence in your ability to answer questions, helping to reduce some of your anxiety!
In short, practicing retrieval by quizzing yourself, using elaboration, and creating concrete examples is an effective way of studying and retaining your course material. These strategies are backed by science, and I saw results with my tutoring students last semester!