Many students ask VOA Learning English about studying. They want to know the best ways to improve their learning.
In this week’s Education Tips, we will explore four methods you can use: focusing, testing yourself, interleaving and teaching.
One of the best ways to organize your study session is to use the Pomodoro Technique. It is a powerful, but simple method that helps people focus on a task.
The idea is to use a timer. Let’s say, you set the timer for 20 minutes, and focus only on your studies during that time. You cannot check email, send text messages or do anything aside from your task.
When the timer goes off, you can reward yourself by listening to some music or having a drink of tea.
You can repeat the process as many times as needed.
If you would like to learn more details about the Pomodoro Technique, you can read a previous Education Tips story on our website, learningenglish.voanews.com
When you are studying, you should test yourself often. If you are using a textbook, then you can do practice questions from the end of each chapter, as we suggested in an earlier Education Tips. You can also find all kinds of online tests and quizzes for many subjects.
Flash cards are another tool. There are free flash card programs, or you could use pieces of paper. The point is that you make your questions somewhat difficult, and then practice with them regularly.
But, you should be careful about flash cards. Think carefully about making different kinds of questions. Many language learners put a vocabulary word on one side of a flash card, and the definition on the back. Every flash card suggests the same basic question: what does this word mean?
While it is useful to remember what different words mean, be sure to make other kinds of questions – why questions or how questions, for example. So, you might ask, “Why are determiners important?” or “How can I tell the difference between the progressive tense and the simple tense?”
When most people study, they do “blocked” practice. In other words, they only study one topic at a time.
But research suggests that a different kind of practice, interleaved practice, may be better for long-term learning.
Interleaving is a technique that means you mix different topics. So, for example, in one study session you might spend time testing yourself on vocabulary words and then test yourself on grammar. Or, if studying math, you could mix multiplication and division problems.
A 2020 study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology found that interleaved study was much better than blocked practice. The study examined 54 7th grade math classes over a period of 4 months. Some classes did interleaved assignments while other classes did blocked assignments.
One month later, students took a surprise test. The results were powerful: “The interleaved group outscored the blocked group, 61% versus 38%,” the researchers wrote.
Teaching is also a powerful way to learn. In a study published in Contemporary Education Psychology, researchers compared different groups of students. Some students did not expect to have to teach information, while others did.
Researchers Fiorella and Mayer wrote that when students actually teach a lesson, “they develop a deeper and more persistent understanding of the material than from solely preparing to teach.”
In the Guardian newspaper, David Robson points out ways to teach others, even if you are alone.
“If you don’t have a willing partner, you could imagine describing it to someone, or draft an email setting out what you’ve learned in as much detail as possible,” Robson wrote.
You can put all of these techniques together to make a powerful study plan.
For example, you might organize your study sessions with the Pomodoro technique. Then, you can test yourself and interleave different topics. After that, you could take a break, reward yourself and do another Pomodoro session.
There are many options. You can create your own plan based on what you need to learn. But what you will realize is that when you focus and do tasks that are at the right difficulty level, your brain will become tired. Some days, you might only be able to do one 20-minute session, for example. Other days, you might do many 20-minute sessions.
After all of that mental training, you will surely need to rest and recover. We will explore that topic in a future Education Tips story.
I’m John Russell.
John Russell wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.
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Words in This Story
focus – v. to direct your attention or effort at something specific
session – n. a period of time that is used to do a particular activity
technique – n. a way of doing something by using special knowledge or skill
practice – n. the activity of doing something again and again in order to become better at it
determiner – n. grammar : a word (such as “a,” “the,” “some,” “any,” “my,” or “your”) that comes before a noun and is used to show which thing is being referred to
persistent – n. continuing beyond the usual, expected, or normal time : not stopping or going away
reward – n. something good that is given or received for doing a task or job
topic – n. a subject of discussion or thought
draft – v. to write something or make a version of something that may be changed later on