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Learning strategies: How to successfully organise your studies am 24. April 2021
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Themen: learning strategies , Motivation , self-management and time management

Learning strategies: How to successfully organise your studies

Learning strategies are in high demand: Exam season is approaching, learning materials are ex-tensive and the motivation is low. Studying successfully and properly is not an easy endeavour and is often challenging. The Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) presents different learning strategies and reading techniques.

Every person makes use of different learning strategies, consciously as well as unconsciously. Studying successfully not only depends on your motivation and your progress in preparing for the exam but also on how well you are able to apply strategies to guide your studying. The following list of learning strategies is organised according to their areas of application.

1. Organisational strategies

1.     Organisational strategies

Organisational strategies help you get an overview of new areas of knowledge. Frequently used organisational strategies are:

1.1. Writing summaries of texts (involves learning at the same time)

1.2. Creating mind maps on a topic

1.3. Structuring the learning material

A method for focusing and getting an overview.

  • At first, get an overview of the quantity of your learning material.
  • Then, structure the material by highlighting the most important parts (titles, key statements) and avoid getting lost in details.
  • Only start studying once you have structured the material.

1.4. Using posters for studying

1.4. Using posters for studying

This easy but efficient technique is useful for subject areas that require you to memorise a lot of content (formulae, complex structures, vocabulary, etc.).

  • Take a large poster.
  • Write the content you have to learn on the poster as simplified, clearly and well-structured as possible. Using mind maps, charts or illustrations can be helpful as well.
  • Put up the poster in a place in your home that you frequent often (fridge, mirror, toilet). Pause for a moment every time you pass the poster, read it and repeat what you have read in your mind or out loud.

1.5. Speed reading techniques

1.5. Speed reading techniques

Speed reading techniques are useful for gaining an initial overview and orientation when dealing with large amounts of text. Basically, speed reading techniques are about expanding your field of perception and increasing reading speed – while at the same time understanding important content. At an average reading speed, we read about 200 words per minute. This number is significantly higher in speed reading. You have to adapt the reading speed to each text. Not all texts are alike (specialist language, complex syntax, foreign words, foreign languages).

  • Get an overview of the content: Read the table of contents as well as the headings and try to get an overview of the structure of the text.
  • Try to quickly detect relevant information such as highlighted text and visual information and distinguish it from less relevant information.
  • Expand your visual span: At a distance of 30 cm from the reading material, untrained persons are able to perceive about 3-4 letters at a glance (visual span of about 1 cm). Try consciously not to read but rather concentrate on the centre of the current line and perceive the text as if it were an image. With practice, you can widen your visual span to up to 12 cm.
  • PhotoReading: Pose questions about the text and read the text quickly from the top right to the bottom left (2-3 seconds/page). This technique is only suitable to get an overview of the structure of the text or if you are looking for certain keywords because you want to answer very detailed questions to be answered by the text.
  • Try not to let your mind wander: Keep in mind what you are doing and what your next step will be. If you would like to think about something, note it down but think about it later.
  • Avoid typical reading technique mistakes: Do not use your finger to follow the text and do not move your head along the lines.

2.     Elaboration strategies

2. Elaboration strategies

Elaboration strategies help activate knowledge you previously acquired and link it with new knowledge. Frequently used strategies are:

2.1. Activating previous knowledge

2.2. Asking questions

2.3. Taking notes

2.4. Thinking of examples

2.5. PQ4R method:

2.5. PQ4R method:

This method supports reading comprehension and directs reading attention. PQ4R stands for Preview – Question – Read – Reflect – Recite – Review. This method is based on the individual analysis of a text by means of questions and writing.

  1. Preview: Get an overview by skimming over the table of contents, headings, summaries and a few individual passages. Divide the text into sections and apply the following four steps to each section.
  2. Questions: Formulate questions about each section. This raises motivation to find answers to the questions.
  3. Read: Read each section carefully and highlight important keywords and connections. Try to answer the questions you have asked.
  4. Reflect: Try to understand the text and relate the information to your previous knowledge.
  5. Recite: Try to answer all questions you have asked in every section. Reread the passages that are difficult to remember.
  6. Review: Go through the whole text again in your mind. Recall the most important points and try to answer the questions you have asked.

3. Strategies for the application of knowledge

3.     Strategies for the application of knowledge

Strategies for the application of knowledge help reproduce knowledge that you have learned. Frequently used strategies are:

3.1. Writing texts

3.2. Solving problems

3.3. Debating in a social context (e.g. study groups)

3.4. Scenario technique

3.4. Scenario technique

This method is useful for exams that require you to transfer theories and concepts to their application. This method is used to reflect on the application of a theoretical principle in practice (formula, model, concept). It is often used in everyday studying, but is rarely applied consciously as a learning technique.

  • Explore application areas in which the theoretical principle is used. Do research, set up a forum for discussion on Moodle or ask your colleagues and teachers.

    © Barbara Mair
  • Try to imagine the application based on a scenario in practical and concrete terms in your mind’s eye.
  • Make drawings, sketches and diagrams of processes to support you.
  • Try to explain the scenario to others and deduce the related principle from it. This last step serves to monitor your progress. It clearly shows whether the scenario is still unclear to you or whether you were able to apply the theoretical principle in practice.

4. Revision strategies

4.     Revision strategies

Revision strategies help transfer knowledge from the working memory to the long-term memory. Frequently used strategies are:

4.1. Copying the text you want to learn by hand

4.2. Repeated reciting of the material

4.3. Expressing what you have learned in your own words

4.4 Flash cards

4.4  Flash cards

This method is suitable for studying extensive material that is structured in isolated information chunks (frequently used definitions of terms, formulas, mnemonics, vocabulary, etc.).

  • Write small information chunks on flash cards: The question or a term is written on the front and the answer or definition on the back of the flash card.
  • To organise information in categories, it is helpful to use colour coding.
  • Work through the flash cards when you start studying for an exam. In the following rounds, put aside the cards that you can already answer and focus on the remaining flash cards. This way you can realistically evaluate your learning progress.

4.5. Acoustic learning

4.5. Acoustic learning

This method is useful for people who are very good at recalling information they heard.

  • Record the material in your own words. This is already the first part of your learning process.
  • Pay attention to your intonation, vary the volume, choose a comfortable tempo and leave room for “pauses for thought”.
  • You are already learning while speaking. This means that every time you listen to the recording, you are repeating what you have learned.
  • If you use streamed lectures, it is helpful to additionally work through the material in a written form, e.g. with a poster, flash cards or a simple summary.

4.6. Memory aids

4.6. Memory aids

Memory aids include different techniques such as mnemonics, mnemonic rhymes, etc.  The common characteristic of all these strategies is that they reduce a lot of content to less content using simple tricks that make it easier to memorise the content.

  • First, make a list of information that you have to memorise: Write down the formula or the model, or list the series of numbers.
  • Consider how you can best “wrap up” the information to be able to recall it quickly. The following links provide detailed and clear explanations about the different methods:

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