Etudes, Effective Study Skills, Learning and Retention

November is here and we have settled into a study routine; perhaps confidently or with some trepidation. Seminars, essay marking scheme and ‘2010 Examiners’ Reports’ are now available; these are excellent resources to evaluate study strategies, improve retention and learning outcomes. We have experienced a study routine and can determine the value of how we use study time and which resources or techniques can improve our results. Results come from engagement with material, retention of key issues and the ability to present our arguments in exams. Exams are seven months away; right now we have new resources to embrace.

Embracing new resources and varying our study routine can improve results. The New York Times recently published an article citing research results on learning, retention, pedagogy and study strategies; the article focuses on the relationship between these issues and how it affects outcomes. The research showed some surprising statistics. For example ideas like learning styles and teaching styles are shown to be irrelevant when measuring learning and retention. Study strategies most likely to increase retention and improve exam results include working on multiple sets of problems simultaneously, working in different settings, frequent quizzing, and varying the type of material studied in a single session.

For me, a single study session might include skimming an article on critical theory, reviewing specific terms like ‘genre,’ ‘allegory,’ ‘romance,’ ‘dramatic,’ or ‘lyric,’ and outlining answers to sample exam questions. I can read in my favorite chair in front of the window, study terms in the library with books strewn about, and then write essays at my favorite desk. Most interesting to me is the research emphasis on ‘quizzing’ and varying a study routine. In our study format ‘variety’ sometimes feels like a constant rather than a variable; writing practice, our ‘quizzing,’ now seems even more valuable in my routine. The science behind the article suggests we associate learning with background stimulus and unconsciously make associations between things we are trying to grasp; varied stimulus improves recall because it creates multiple neural associations.

We have a wide variety of materials to help us embrace these insights. Leaving the science behind, I began to look around for inspiration and remembered Luciano Pavarotti; throughout his legendary career Pavarotti constantly studied with several coaches to achieve performance goals. His coaching sessions must have been fabulous etudes culminating in his transcendental performances.

A transcendental performance at exam time would be a rewarding achievement. In the International Programme our coaches and variations are seminars, essay schemes, study guides, examiners reports, self-evaluation and VLE discussion groups. Preparing for exams several months away while contemplating the demands of new material and new, more stringent course requirements in the advanced units means I want to embrace all available resources. Study comes from a Middle English word meaning ‘to devote oneself;’ this is a very good time to devote myself to best study practices. Being a romantic at heart I will approach my study time like a marvelously composed etude full of challenging variations.

2 thoughts on “Etudes, Effective Study Skills, Learning and Retention

  1. It is correct that we associate learning with background stimulus and unconsciously make associations between things we are trying to grasp. As a law student I used varied stimulus to improve recall of cases and legilation.

    I imagined myself as an observer in the cases watching the scenario unfold before me, I’d focus on what I would have been able see, hear, smell and feel had I actually been there – reliving the cases really helped at exam time. (just be careful if doing this with criminal law cases!)

    I would imaging that it would be really exciting being able to do something similar with the classics.

    Another great study technique is to use Tony Buzan’s Mind Mapping, you can do this free style on paper or use a free mindmapping software from the internet to create your map. Print, then add images to the map to bring it alive. Fantastic if you visualise in exams your way around the map as an aide memoir.

    Loved the article. Aly


  2. Thank you, Aly. It is very inspiring to hear how you create learning enhancements. I like visuization exercises too, and reading out loud. The more ‘physical’ imagery the better for me; I have staged many novels in my mind, and adjusted them for different theoretical approaches!



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