Curious Parents

This Study Hack From a Stanford Researcher Gets As out of B+ Students

For educators, finding new ways to boost student performance in school can seem like a never-ending wild goose chase. A study published in April 2017 by a Stanford research fellow claims to have solved part of the problem: Just studying doesn't cut it. How you study is the real key.

Teach Me How To Study

For most students, re-reading notes from class is their go-to study method. Makes sense: you took the notes, so you'd better read them. Too bad that's basically ineffective. According to Patricia Chen, a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford, having students focus on how they plan to use their study time is what shows real results. The process is called metacognition, and Vanderbilt University defines it as "thinking about one's thinking."

In Chen's study, some students in an introductory college statistics class received a survey 10–15 days before every exam that had them take 15 minutes to reflect on how they study. Specifically, it asked the students to ponder the kinds of questions the exam might ask, and to "identify which of 15 available class resources they would use to study, including lecture notes, practice exam questions, textbook readings, instructor office hours, peer discussions, and private tutoring," according to Quartz. Then they were asked to explain why each resource would be useful. In essence, they were laying out a study plan. The control group just got pinged with a reminder that their test was approaching. The students who reflected on how best to prepare for each exam actually outscored the control group by an average of a third of a letter grade. Boom—that B+ is now a solid A. 

That's So Meta

Taking a moment to really think about your study materials and how you can best use them sounds easy, but students probably aren't doing it. As Chen tells Quartz, "All too often, students just jump mindlessly into studying before they have even strategized what to use, without understanding why they are using each resource, and without planning out how they would use the resource to learn effectively."

Luckily, asking students the right questions to get them into this mode of thinking is much cheaper than revamping school curricula and investing in fancy new classroom gadgets. It's up to parents and teachers to encourage it. According to the Education Endowment Foundation, the effort is worth it. Not only is metacognition intervention and self-regulation one of the least expensive teaching and learning tools, it's also one of the most effective and longest lasting. This brain-training technique seems like a real no-brainer.

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Metacognition: Learning about Learning