Make it Stick (originally published September 28, 2014)

make it stick


Have you read this great book yet?  Here’s a summary of study strategies proven by research to work!

Make It Stick:  The Science of Successful Learning

By Peter Brown, Henry Roediger, Mark McDaniel        2014

  1.  Retrieval practice should be the primary study strategy.  This means self-quizzing, retrieving knowledge and skill from memory.

      A.  While reading text or notes, periodically stop and ask yourself:

                            1.  What are the key ideas?

                           2.  What terms or ideas are new to me?

                           3.  How would I define them?

                          4.  How do the ideas relate to what I already know?

           B.     Answer questions at the end of chapters/sections

          C.  Make up your own study questions and write them and the answers down.

          D.  Spaced retrieval practice:  if the material is new then you need to               practice everyday,  for familiar material periodically.

          E.  Alternate the study of 2 topics so you are continually refreshing your mind as you come back to a topic.

2.   Elaboration improves your mastery of new material and multiplies the mental cues

available to you for later recall and application.   Examples:

  •  relate the material to what you already know,
  •  explain it to someone else in your own words,
  •  try to translate it into a visual image or graphic

3.   Generation makes the mind more receptive to new learning.  It means attempting to answer the question or solve the problem before being shown the answer.

  A. When reading new material try to explain beforehand the key ideas you expect to find in the material and how you expect they will relate to your prior knowledge.

            B. When you struggle to learn, the learning is stronger.

     4.   Reflection– combo of retrieval practice and elaboration that adds layers to learning and strengthens skills.  Take a few minutes to review what you learned in class or an experience and ask yourself:

             A.   What went well?

            B.  What could have gone better?

            C.  What other knowledge or experience does it remind you of?

           D.  What might you need to learn for better mastery?

           E.  What strategy might you use next time to get better results?

           F.  Mental rehearsal

    5.  Calibration  – act of aligning your judgments of what you know and don’t know with objective feedback to avoid being carried off by illusions of mastery that catch many learners by surprise at test time.  Use quizzes and practice tests.

   6. Mnemonic Devices – help retrieve what you have learned and to hold arbitrary info in memory.


Specific techniques:

  1.  Always do the reading prior to a lecture.
  2. Anticipate test questions and their answers as you read.
  3. Answer rhetorical questions in your head during lectures to test retention of the reading.
  4. Review study guides, find terms you don’t know and relearn them.
  5. Copy bolded terms and their definitions into a reading notebook, making sure you understand them.
  6. Take practice tests, discover what you don’t know and learn it.
  7. Reorganize course information into a study guide of your own design.
  8. Write out concepts that are detailed or important, post them above your desk and test yourself on them from time to time.
  9. Space out your review and practice over the duration of the course.

As a mother of 3 young adults who are either still in college or planning to attend grad school, I passed this along to them.  I’ve given this handout to parents at IEP meetings and have started using it with students.

Please consider reading this excellent book so you can understand why these strategies work and also read about the ones that don’t work!

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