Study skills books based on science?
January 12, 2012 4:19 PM   Subscribe

Please recommend books about study skills that are based on scientific research. Like how NurtureShock approaches parenting.

I left college a couple of years ago without finishing my degree and now that I will be taking a couple of courses this spring, I want to brush up my study skills.
posted by Foci for Analysis to Education (15 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Is Po Bronson a scientist? Anyway, wouldn't you do better to maybe read some 200 or 300-level textbooks on cognitive psychology? That's how teachers (like me) learn to teach.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:40 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm not looking for advice on how to teach, but rather how to learn in the context of being a college student.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 4:47 PM on January 12, 2012

Well, books on cognitive psychology can provide insights into individual learning styles, for example. Learning is obviously a complicated subject, and there will be no one popular science book that will be able to explain how to do it.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:56 PM on January 12, 2012

The best study skills books I read were in specific areas like memory and procrastination. They weren't all marketed as study skills books, and didn't seem to make a distinction between scientific and "here try this," and it didn't seem that they cared much about it, even if the authors came from scientific/research backgrounds. So that might be a challenge to find.
posted by circular at 5:12 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've heard good things about Cal Newport's blog Study Hacks.
posted by dfriedman at 5:16 PM on January 12, 2012 [5 favorites]

NY Times article says, "Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits".
posted by seriousmoonlight at 5:17 PM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Brain Rules. Plus it's just a good read. Also, what topics will you be studying? A memorization heavy course like anatomy requires different skills than courses where you are interpreting subjective things (though critical thinking should hopefully apply to any college course).
posted by adorap0621 at 5:48 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

2nding the NY Times article that seriousmoonlight mentions.

I would also recommend How People Learn, which is a book about, yes, how people learn. It is a book aimed at educators that uses cognitive science to understand the ways people can most effectively be taught (the first 6 chapters should have what you're looking for). Why Don't Students Like School by Daniel Willingham is also aimed at educators, but is also firmly grounded in cognitive science. The Learning Brain: Lessons for Education is a book that discusses learning from a neuroscience perspective. These books may not explicitly tell you how to study more effectively (so it may not be exactly what you're looking for), but you could use the knowledge in these books to device an effective study strategy based on how your brain naturally learns.

Some more specific advice (I know they're not books, but they should help you)

- General

- Test yourself frequently. Struggling to remember something makes it easier to remember in the future (NY Times article, The Globe and Mail article, Science Daily article).

- Change up your studying using different techniques and topics. For example, studying a certain math topic may carry over to a different topic, since they may use similar skills (Science Daily article about applying this to motor skills).

- Use spatial relationships to help you remember definitions and other information you need to memorize (NY Times article, Wikipedia article on the "Method of Loci" technique).

- Exhibit self-control. Remove distractions while you are studying so they don't affect your studying (Toronto Star article, The New Yorker article, one of many Jonah Lehrer blog posts on the topic).

- To avoid procrastination, be aware of how lazy your brain actually is. You can always say that "future you" will want to study, but don't trust "future you". You can only control what "present you" does (blog post from "You Are Not So Smart").

- Join a study group. You may learn more effectively, and as long as you stay on task, you'll probably have more fun than you would by yourself (Washington Unviersity of St. Louis press release).

- Spreading your studying over days (or weeks, or months) is much more effective than cramming all the information in a few days. This is called the Spacing effect (Wired article).

- General getting smarter/studying advice, which includes much of the advice above, plus a few extra things (NPR article, The Globe and Mail article, Scientific American blog post).

- No sources here, but eat well, sleep well, get physical activity and take a break every once in awhile.

- Don't be afraid to try things out, and throw away the things that aren't really effective for you. These tips may work for most people, but someone with ADHD or dyslexia may need to find alternative ways of studying that work around their disabilities. Only you know what works best for you, so you'll have to practice (i.e. study a lot) to find the most effective study techniques. Good luck!
posted by marcusesses at 6:32 PM on January 12, 2012 [8 favorites]

I have traveled this road of sophisticated procrastination of looking up cool and scientific methods of studying. Either way "Less Wrong" wrote up a summary of scientifically valid self-help ideas and this is the section on Study Methods. (Bibliography in the link).

"Study methods

Organize for clarity the information you want to learn, for example in an outline (Einstein & McDaniel 2004; Tigner 1999; McDaniel et al. 1996). Cramming doesn't work (Wong 2006). Set up a schedule for studying (Allgood et al. 2000). Test yourself on the material (Karpicke & Roediger 2003; Roediger & Karpicke 2006a; Roediger & Karpicke 2006b; Agarwal et al. 2008; Butler & Roediger 2008), and do so repeatedly, with 24 hours or more between study sessions (Rohrer & Taylor 2006; Seabrook et al 2005; Cepeda et al. 2006; Rohrer et al. 2005; Karpicke & Roediger 2007). Basically: use Anki.

To retain studied information more effectively, try acrostics (Hermann et al. 2002), the link method (Iaccino 1996; Worthen 1997); and the method of loci (Massen & Vaterrodt-Plunnecke 2006; Moe & De Beni 2004; Moe & De Beni 2005)."
posted by Lucubrator at 7:56 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

This book is not based upon peer-reviewed scientific research but on the guy's many years of experience as an educator. I found it very useful.

Study is Hard Work by William Armstrong

posted by bukvich at 8:46 PM on January 12, 2012

Thanks for the suggestions!

I'll be taking one mathematics course and three IT/CS courses. The IT/CS courses should be fairly straightforward but maths has always been challenging for me.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:13 AM on January 13, 2012

Read Cal Newport (mentioned above), he's a young computer scientist who gives really pragmatic advice on how top students (like he was) study. The problem with using scientific studies as a basis for learning study skills is that they are a patchwork quilt of advice at best. I'm a reasonably smart guy who's been a terrible student all his post secondary life, and Newport's advice for developing study skills was holistic and worked incredibly well for me.
posted by pickingoutathermos at 12:41 AM on January 13, 2012

I've been reading Newport but I find his stuff fragmented and not that scientific. But I'll give it another try.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 6:06 AM on January 13, 2012

His blog is interesting, but more food for thought. I bought his book based on his older articles on study skills (newer articles focus more on career building). It is based on interviews with students, so while anecdotal it's specific and fairly simple to follow. The thing I liked best was that it was a systematic approach to all aspects of student work, not just a list of tips.
posted by pickingoutathermos at 10:57 AM on January 13, 2012

Alright, I've just received Newport's How to Become a Straight-A Student. Will post my opinion if this thread is still open.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 8:08 AM on January 17, 2012

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