5 Studying Strategies to Help Students Learn More

Ryan McPherson HeadshotFor Ryan McPherson, an associate professor of practice at the University of Texas at San Antonio, the ACUE course taught him a lot about what works in terms of teaching and learning. But it was learning about what doesn’t work, especially when it comes to studying, that resonated with him. 

“Things we know don’t work include cramming, studying marathons before a test, highlighting things, rereading things,” McPherson told his LinkedIn followers last year. He had recently completed ACUE’s 25-module course in effective teaching practices and earning a certificate in effective college instruction endorsed by the American Council on Education (ACE). 


Five Studying Strategies to Help Students Learn More 

Equipping students with evidence-based studying skills are among the strategies that McPherson learned about and implemented as part of his ACUE course experience. Below, he writes about five studying strategies that educators can share with students to help them study smarter. (Adapted from McPherson’s instructional LinkedIn video.)

1. Quiz yourself: Instead of repeatedly reading over the same material, pre-quizzing is a studying technique that can enhance your retention of key concepts and information. It’s particularly useful before you engage in deeper studying techniques. 

2. Spaced practice: Spacing works the same way as high-intensity interval training. Rather than engaging in marathon studying sessions all at once, spacing out your studying into shorter but more focused sessions will improve your retention and retrieval of key information. 

3. Interleaving: Interleaving refers to the kinds of materials and types of problems you’re studying. Studying the same thing for a long time offers minimal benefits. But when you mix up the ways in which you study a related topic (flashcard games, writing tasks, or reading a textbook) and the types of problems (mixing lower and higher cognitively complex problems), you’re more likely to retain information. 

4. Teaching others: One of the best studying techniques is playing the role of the teacher. Having to prepare materials and present information to other people, in a team learning environment, forces the learner to think more deeply about what key lessons and concepts are most important to understand. 

5. Individual reflection: The act of intentional reflecting is an effective practice for surfacing consciousness and bringing greater awareness. Engaging in individual reflection before and after engaging in a learning experience activates brain systems that lead to higher grades. 

UT System and ACUE Partnership Equips Faculty with Evidence-based Teaching Practices

McPherson and two dozen colleagues were inaugural ACUE Teaching Fellows at UTSA, a program established as part of a student success initiative launched by the University of Texas (UT) System and ACUE. With support from Chancellor James Milliken, and led by Associate Vice Chancellor Rebecca Karoff, the UT System has helped eight UT academic institutions equip hundreds of faculty with evidence-based teaching practices.It was a pleasure to recognize #UTSA’s 1st class of @ACUE_HQ teaching fellows! These 53 #UTSAFaculty across 30 disciplines spent a lot of time and energy expanding their own expertise to deliver an even more engaging education for our #Roadrunners. #BirdsUp

At a ceremony last year, UTSA Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Kimberly Andrews Espy celebrated UTSA’s first cohorts of ACUE Teaching Fellows for their resilience amidst a year of unprecedented challenges. 

“Your tremendous work is about more than personal development, cultivating new skills, or giving your courses an upgrade,” said Andrews Espy. “You completed this strenuous program, amid an already stressful year, because you care deeply about providing students with a high-quality and engaging education that prepares them to build bold futures.”

At UTSA, a nationally-recognized Hispanic Serving, Carnegie R1 university, ACUE is also part of the university’s strategies for advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts. Through UTSA’s Academic Innovation division, ACUE’s microcredential course in Inclusive Teaching for Equitable Learning is among the year-round professional development programs offered — often at no cost and with financial incentives — to help faculty become more inclusive instructors and connect with peers outside their departments and colleges. 

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