How much better to get wisdom than gold, to get insight rather than silver – Proverbs 16: 16 (NIV)


According to Steven Chew, professor of psychology at Samford University, the following are factors/strategies that influence effective study –

Beliefs that make you fail or succeed: The more accurate your beliefs, the more you will learn effectively.

The following are beliefs that undermine your learning and make you look stupid:

  • learning is fast
  • knowledge is composed of isolated facts
  • being good at a subject is a matter of inborn talent
  • I’m really good at multitasking

Metacognition refers to a student’s awareness of the level of understanding of a topic. Accurate metacognition is the key to the difference between successful and struggling students. Weaker students are grossly overconfident about how well they understand their course material. As a result, they don’t study as much as they need to, to truly understand the material. When they take an exam, they are confident that they have done well. Then they stunned when they find out how that they’ve done poorly. The problem with poor metacognition is that it may indicate that the student has a poor study strategy, which builds overconfidence without increasing actual learning.

What students should understand about how people learn: The most important factor in successful learning is what you think about while studying. In other words, students who use deep processing while studying learnt the material whether they intended to or not. Deep processing focuses on subjective meanings, relating new information to prior knowledge or making information personally meaningful. On the other hand, shallow strategies do not learn because of the focus on meaningless aspects of information like memorising definitions or mindlessly rereading notes. The following things help to learn:

  • minimising distractions; maximising focus
  • developing accurate metacognition
  • deep, appropriate processing of critical concepts
  • practising retrieval and application.

Cognitive Principles for Optimising Learning: Shallow learning strategies focus on superficial aspects of learning like memorisation. But if you use a deep learning strategy which focuses on meanings, comprehension, and visual imagery, then you will learn whether you intend to or not. How do you accomplish deep processing while studying? Here are some basic principles for achieving deep processing –

  • Elaboration:  How does this concept relate to other concepts?
  • Distinctiveness: How is this concept different from other concepts?
  • Personal: How can I relate this concept to my personal experience?
  • Appropriate to Retrieval and Application: How am I expected to use and apply this concept?
  • An exception to memorisation is if your teacher tests you over exact wordings of isolated facts, then it is helpful to memorise the isolated facts.
  • Automaticity: A process so highly practised that it occurs without any conscious effort.
  • Overlearning: You don’t just study material until you can recall it, you keep studying it repeatedly until you can recall it quickly and easily.


To be continued

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