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Active Learning Strategies

Improve your study skills

Many students are not familiar with active study strategies and lack a routine to help them study with purpose.  This page provides a description of active study techniques as well as some detailed examples.  Click the drop-down tabs below to begin.

Active Study Techniques
Active vs. Passive Studying

Many students study in a “passive” way by rereading, highlighting, and underlining their notes.  This is a fine first step in a study process, but it should be followed by an “active” study technique.  Active techniques include some form of self-testing so one can see what information they are understanding and what concepts they need to review.

To begin studying a concept, choose an active-study strategy from the left column of the table below. Review that material by using the corresponding strategy in the right column. 

Preparation Strategies 
Review Strategies 

Develop study sheets 

Recite study sheets 

Develop concept maps 

Replicate concept maps from memory 

Make word cards 

Recite word cards 

Make question cards 

Recite question cards 

Make formula cards 

Practice writing formulas 

Make problem cards 

Work problems 

Make self-tests 

Take self-tests 

Do study guides 

Practice study guide info out loud 

Re-mark text material 

Take notes on the re-marked text 

Make a list of 20 topics that might be on the exam 

Recite the list of 20 possible exam topics 

Do problems 

Do “missed” problems 

Make an outline 

Recite notes from recall cues 

Summarize material 

Recite summary out loud 

Make charts of related material 

Re-create chart from memory 

List steps in a process 

Recite steps from memory 

Predict essay questions 

Answer essay questions 

Answer questions at the end of the chapter 

Practice reciting main points 

Prepare material for study group 

Explain material to study group 

 

The Study Cycle

The best way to improve recall and understanding of a concept in your classes is through repetition. The Study Cycle builds repetition into your routine so that you read and review the same concept several times over the course of a given week. 

  1. Preview: Read through the material you will be covering in class ahead of time.  Make note of big ideas and issues that seem confusing.  This will give you a better chance of following along with lecture. 
  2. Attend: Go to class, write down what the professor is saying (whether on a computer or in a notebook), and ask questions. If you stay actively engaged with the lecture, you will get more out of the experience.  
  3. Review: Take about ten minutes to read through your notes, fill in gaps, and develop questions.  Try to summarize the big ideas from the lecture and think about how different concepts relate to one another.  
  4. Study: Make a specific goal for a one-hour period and use active study techniques to review material. Solve equations, explain ideas from your notes without looking, diagram the concept, etc. 
  5. Check: Reflect on your progress.  Is your current approach working? Are you able to teach these concepts to someone else? Would a different study technique work better? For example, instead of just using flash cards, you could also make a practice quiz and time yourself. 
Intense Study Session

When you sit down to begin studying, it is helpful to have a routine to get you organized and ready to go. An intense study session offers an organized block of time to achieve a particular goal. 

  1. Make a Plan (1-2 minutes): Before you begin studying, make a specific goal for your study session. For example, don't say "I'm going to study biology." Instead, say "I'm going to review the slides from Chapter 4 and answer 5 homework questions." This plan will help give your study session a sense of urgency and focus. 
  2. Study (30-45 minutes): Once your goal is set, put away any distractions (especially your phone) and use active study techniques.  Solve questions, summarize key points, and stay focused on your work.  If you feel tempted to check your phone, remind yourself you have a break coming up and you need to complete your goal first. 
  3. Break (5-10 minutes): Following the period of intense focus, it is important to give your brain a break.  Take a walk, call a friend, check your phone.  It is important that you set a timer! This break should be no longer than ten minutes. 
  4. Review (3-5 minutes): Review the work you just completed or the concept you just studied. Check for mistakes and if you can recall the information. 

Repeat this cycle as necessary.  Sometimes it is helpful to switch to a different class to stay fresh. 

5-Day Study Plan

You may have had success in high school cramming all of your studying into a few hours the night before an exam.  Many students attempt to do this in college, but find their grades take a serious drop. This is a result of university courses covering more sophisticated information at a faster pace. It is difficult to learn a lot of information in a short time so students who cram place themselves in a situation that often leads to steep levels of anxiety and undesirable scores. 

The5 Day Study Plan is a great alternative to the stress of an "all-nighter."  Indeed, the brain processes information better in short increments spread over a series of days.  In this scenario, you can study for an upcoming exam over 5 days, learn the information more effectively, and achieve higher scores.  

  1. Space out your exam preparation over a period of at least 5 days, devoting roughly 2 hours each day to studying 
  2. Divide your material into 4 or more sections or chunks.  Each chunk of information will be introduced or reviewed in a 2-hour study session. 
  3. In each study session, introduce and cover a new section of material, then review what you studied the previous day 
  4. Use active study strategies each day. 
  5. Self-test. Attempting to recall information from memory is scientifically proven to aid learning better than repeated viewing. 

5-Day Study Plan Example 

Day 

Action 

Material 

Approximate Time Needed 

Tuesday 

Prepare 

Oldest/hardest chunk of material 

2 hours 

Wednesday 

Prepare 
Review 

2nd oldest chunk of material 
1st chunk of material 

2 hours 
30 minutes 

Thursday 

Prepare 
Review 
Review 

3rd chunk of material 
2nd chunk of material 
1st chunk of material 

1.5 hours 
30 minutes 
20 minutes 

Friday 

Prepare 
Review 
Review 
Review 

4th chunk of material 
3rd chunk of material 
2nd chunk of material 
1st chunk of material 

1 hour 
30 minutes 
20 minutes 
10 minutes 

Saturday 

None - Relax! 

Sunday 

Review 
Review 
Review 
Review 
Self-test 

4th chunk of material 
3rd chunk of material 
2nd chunk of material 
1st chunk of material 
All material 

30 minutes 
20 minutes 
10 minutes 
10 minutes 
1 hour 

 

Total time 

11 hours 

Monday 

TEST! 

Courtesy of Texas A&M’s Academic Success Center 

Check out the following videos for additional study tips!

 

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Works Consulted: 

McGuire, S. Y., & McGuire, S. (2016). Teach students how to learn: Strategies you can incorporate in any course to improve student metacognition, study skills, and motivation. Stylus Publishing, LLC. 

“5-Day Study Plan.” Texas A&M University. Retrieved from https://asc.tamu.edu/Study-Learning-Handouts-(1)/Study-Learning-Handouts 


 

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