Learning How to Learn

Learning How to Learn


Elaborative Interrogation (Rating = moderate)

  • creating explanations forwhy , concentrating on why questions rather than what questions
  • To do this yourself, after reading a few paragraphs of text ask yourself to explain “why does x = y?” and use your answers to form your notes.
  • enough prior knowledge to enable you to generate good questions for yourself, so this method may be best for learners with experience in a subject
  • elaborative learning took 32 mins as opposed to 28 mins simply reading.

useful for proficient learners because it allows them to apply their prior knowledge effectively to process new information

Self Explanation (Rating = moderate)

A technique that is useful for abstract learning.

  • involves explaining and recordinghow one solves or understands problems as they work and giving reasons for choices that are made.
  • This was found to be more effective if done while learning as opposed to after learning
  • effective with learners ranging from children in kindergarten to older students working on algebraic formulas and geometric theorems.


The core component of self-explanation involves having students explain some aspect of their processing during learning”

Summarisation (Rating = low)


  • Summarising and note taking were found to be beneficial for preparing for written exams
  • It can be an effective learning strategy for learners who are already skilled at summarizing”

Highlighting and underlining (Rating = low)


  • It’s worth remembering that this study only assessed research examining Highlighting/underlining as a stand-alone technique.
  • I’d be interested to discover how effective highlighting is when paired with other techniques.

The keyword mnemonic (Rating = low)

A technique for memorising information involving linking words to meanings through associations based on how a word sounds and creating imagery for specific words. Much research has found that mnemonics are useful for memorising information in the short term

Imagery for Text Learning (Rating = low)

Visualisation was found to be more effective when students listened to a text than when they read text themselves, implying the act of reading may make it harder to focus on visualising. A major problem with imagery research is that most researchers instructed one group to visualise but did not follow up to see if they actually did.

Rereading (Rating = low)

Overall, rereading is found to be much less effective than other techniques – however the research has drawn some interesting conclusions. Massed rereading – rereading immediately after reading – has been found more effective than outlining and summarising for the same amount of time.

Practice Testing (Rating = High)

Practice tests that require more detailed answers to be generated are more effective. Importantly, practice testing is effective when you create the questions yourself.

So how can you apply this research?

  1. flash cards
  2. Cornell note-taking system (Example PDF)

Distributed Practice (Rating = High)

Have you ever wondered whether it is best to do your studying in large chunks or divide your studying over a period of time? Research has found that the optimal level of distribution of sessions for learning is 10-20% of the length of time that something needs to be remembered.


  1. if you want to remember something for a year you should study at least every month,
  2. if you want to remember something for five years you should space your learning every six to twelve months.
  3. If you want to remember something for a week you should space your learning 12-24 hours apart.

It does seem however that the distributed-practice effect may work best when processing information deeply – so for best results you might want to try a distributed practice and self-testing combo.

Interleaved Practice (Rating = Moderate)


The research that has so far been conducted seems to suggest that interleaving is useful for motor learning (learning involving physical movement) and cognitive tasks (such as maths problems) – where benefits of up to 43% have been reported. It also seems that like distributed practice; interleaved practice seems to benefit longer term retention:


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