Pedagogy Market Research | Review #4


Strengthening The Student Toolbox
By John Dunlosky

Psychology Professor and Director of Experimental Training at Kent State University

Study Strategies to Boost Learning

Review Summary by Diya Jaishankar
Grade X Student, Market Research Intern, Adaptive Instruction

Diya Jaishankar is a tenth grade student in Bangalore. She is curious and observant and enjoys playing the piano, watching crime shows, solving puzzles and chatting with her friends.

This is a summary of a research paper written by Psychology professor and Director of experimental training at Kent State University, John Dunlosky. The article elaborates upon 10 learning strategies ranging from most to least effective. The focus of the school curriculum on the study material to be taught rather than the learning strategies to be used by students to learn it made Dunlosky begin his quest for the most productive learning strategies to encourage lifelong learning. So, Dunlosky and his fellow cognitive and educational researchers reviewed the productivity of 10 learning strategies ensuring that minimal technology was required. They are summarized below.


1. Practice Testing – Self-testing on study material to be learnt

As shown by a century of research, periodic tests requiring memory recall produce higher student achievement as compared to rereading study material. Makes students realize the extent of their knowledge, and what to practice further. Students are encouraged to take notes, make flashcards, compare their answers with expert’s solutions and relearn misunderstood concepts. Tests to focus on topics relevant to final examination.

2. Distributed Practice – Planning a study schedule for performing study activities over a period

Key terms:
Massed Practice – practicing same topic for a period before moving onto the next one
Cramming – studying material for a short period before testing
Distributed Practice – interleaving study/testing of concepts with other activities.  This is the most productive.

Distributed Practice increases information retention and develops long-term memory, but requires more practice/effort than massed practice. Requires proper planning of a practical study schedule to be effective. Cumulative exams with emphasis on specific topics would strengthen knowledge and encourage this method.


1. Interleaved practice – Creating a study schedule that includes different types of study material in a single study session

This Involves practicing different types of topics/problems over time. Massed practice produces more performance improvement though more transient as compared to this strategy. It teaches students steps to solve varied types of problems and how to identify their types. Some studies have shown that interleaved practice did not help students learn comma usage and vocabulary

2. Elaborative Interrogation and Self-Explanation

Elaborative Interrogation – Explaining in one’s own words the reason or meaning behind the facts of study material

Self-explanation – Explaining study material by connecting it to previously learned information

As per a study, student performance improved by 3 times when used. It elevates problem solving abilities, learning and understanding – as they are required to explain thought process and reasoning. It is only useful in the presence of background information. There is not enough research to support the stratagem.

II. LEAST USEFUL STRATEGIES (and most used by students)

1. Rereading and Highlighting – Studying the text multiple times and marking the important parts of the study material

These are found to be ineffective for comprehension, as they only help in memory recall, with fleeting benefits. Highlighting is detrimental to student comprehension test scores.

2. Summarization – Writing out the gist/summary of the text

Students must be taught to take notes and write superlative summaries in advance. This is more useful for high school students or undergraduates.

3. Keyword Mnemonics and Imagery for Text

Keyword Mnemonic – Creation of an internal image of a keyword that represents information to be stored.

Imagery for text – Development of an internal picture of the process/object to remember related information.

It is helpful for short-term memory retention, and not widely applicable


Thus, students must be taught various methods of learning and should be motivated to use them instead of solely being lectured the information. This is to prevent them from resorting to strategies such as cramming which would result in them forgetting study material soon after being tested.

Link to the published paper: Strengthening the Student Toolbox