There is a ton of material to learn in college. The question is can you do anything to help remember material better? Yes! There are study techniques that can help. Deep processing and distributed practice are two techniques to help. Read on to learn more.

  • Dig Deep!

In 1972, Craig & Lockhart found that memory is not based on how long you spend rehearsing material. Memory is based on how much you rehears information in a meaningful way. Take a look at your own study strategies. Do you study class material in a meaningful way? Surface studying and deep studying have been identified as two very different strategies that vary in the level of meaningfulness.

Surface studying means you rehearse information based on superficial characteristics. Turns out, we like to study this way, probably because it feels easier. However, surface studying is not very meaningful, and it is not very effective. The following are examples of surface studying techniques:

  • Reading and re-reading notes or a textbook
  • Highlighting notes
  • Skimming a book
  • Memorizing by rout

Deep studying, on the other hand, is when you rehearse information in a meaningful way. The following are examples of deep studying techniques:

  • Making connections to yourself and your life
  • Making links across material
  • Searching for a deeper understanding of material
  • Looking for general principles
  • Thinking about real-world examples
  • Applying ideas while reading anecdotal stories

Bottom line: The more you use deep studying, the better. Make the material more meaningful! Not only will this strategy help your memory, it may make studying a bit more enjoyable.

  • Cramming? Think Again

Knowledge and skills are better retained when you “distribute” your studying over the course of several days or weeks opposed to “massed” studying where concepts are practiced all at once (aka cramming!). Now, virtually all students have or do “cram” for tests – primarily because studying feels more difficult when it’s distributed as opposed to massed. However, the research evidence overwhelmingly supports the use of distributed practice as the far superior method. Interestingly, we use distributed practice to master many things in our lives – but rarely when we are studying! For example, when preparing to run a marathon most elite performers (that would be you!) will “distribute” their practice over many months until they have acquired the fitness to successfully complete the race.  I don’t know of any elite athlete that would prepare for a marathon run by doing very little training until the night before the big race – and then decide to “cram” by running 25 miles!  I like the idea of extending athletic training theory into college “training theory!”  Identify your big events (e.g., midterms, finals, projects, etc.) and then work backwards and PLAN your study sessions so that you can distribute your learning over time.


Helpful Handouts

Memory Handout- Dartmouth This handout provides a comprehensive review of memory, why we forget, and how to effectively retain information.

Increase memory – Dartmouth Learn more about increasing your memory in this handout.