5 Study Strategies Based on Research

People may struggle with studying, thinking it is a repetitive matter of just memorization and recitation. As such, some students may want to seek alternative ways to make studying more effective for them. Fortunately, there are many methods that one can try to make the most out of their study time. These five different study strategies based on research will change the way you approach studying and improve how you learn.

Spaced Repetition

Spaced repetition is a method of studying in which you study challenging lessons with increasing frequency compared to simple ones. As explained by Dr. Pierce J. Howard in his work The Owner’s Manual for the Brain, neural connections need time to fully solidify. When not enough time has passed between mental work requiring complex analysis, older learning is discarded in favor of new learning. Material that’s easier to learn requires less time to be stored in the memory.

This technique works similarly to training with a musical instrument. You start with easy exercises, then build up to more complicated performances. The periodically spaced repetition helps the brain store the information in your long-term memory, making it more accessible in the future. Where it may seem that you are spending less time studying than usual, you are actually making more efficient use of your study time by putting less priority on simple material.

Retrieval Practice

Retrieval practice is a technique in which you actively try to recall something as you’re studying.  In essence, you give yourself an immediate test of what you just learned. Instead of repeatedly studying a question with the answer alongside it, a student can read the question and try to solve it before seeking the answer. In short, one needs to first try to retrieve the information they just studied. This exercise helps convert knowledge from short-term memory to long-term memory, increasing the chance of retention. Research shows that retrieval practice helps students perform better on complex tasks and assessments. 

Note-Taking and Using Keywords

Keywords are an important part of note-taking, as they help narrow down the potential focal points of the topic being discussed. They factor heavily into different methods of note-taking. While one might think of taking notes as simply copying what the instructor says or writes on the board, it can be made more effective through active engagement with the concepts at hand. This can take the form of different techniques:

Concept Maps

A concept map is a chart of keywords, similar to a web, that depicts how different ideas are connected to one another. Picture, for instance, the process of photosynthesis laid out as a set of keywords linked in an organized, chronological fashion. This can be an effective technique as it uses visuals, which might stick in the memory more easily. Incidentally, this is similar to another studying strategy, which will be discussed later.


Also known as the “matrix” method, this technique resembles a spreadsheet, in that it is a table where you can plug in multiple items and see how they compare across a variety of criteria. This is possibly the most particular strategy, as it requires a topic that has easily distinguished categories from the start. Therefore, scientific or historical lectures would be suited to this style of note-taking.

The Cornell Method

This technique was developed by Professor Walter Pauk of Cornell University. It features two columns, one labeled “Notes” for the notes as they are usually taken, and the other labeled “Cues” for the important concepts to be remembered. You can also put questions here about the topic you are studying and answer them later. At the bottom of these is a section labeled “Summary,” where you summarize the concept in your own words, to demonstrate your own understanding of the lesson.


An outline is a structure in which bullet points of main topics are supplemented by sub-points that give further explanations. Research suggests that one of the strengths of this method is that it allows students to think deeply about the hierarchies within concepts, which benefits information recall.


Interleaving refers to learning multiple related concepts at the same time. The theory is that learning about the complementing aspects of one idea will help the student understand the other. For example, if different concepts of physics overlap with biology, it would be beneficial to learn both simultaneously or alternate between them. In music, scholars have studied the practice of interleaving in music study. They have found that incorporating interleaving into rehearsals was beneficial to students learning to play the clarinet in the long term, as opposed to traditional repetitive practices, which promoted short-term improvement.

Dual Coding

Dual coding refers to the teaching technique that uses multiple stimuli: verbal and visual. What this means is that students are given words and images, and are encouraged to connect the two. For example, a teacher can provide a labeled drawing of the parts of the heart that students can study. Then, they can provide an audio explanation of their function and importance. This strong association between two forms of information helps the brain remember it better. Professor Allan Paivio, who first developed this theory, has applied it to research across multiple disciplines, such as psychology, language learning, and sports, displaying the sheer variety of ways it can be used.

You can apply dual coding when studying by using diagrams, graphic organizers, and flashcards to organize the concepts in both words and pictures. You can also look for supplementary materials like videos or posters that will allow you to visualize concepts and understand them better.

Finding What Works Best for You

Hopefully, you can use these learning strategies to help you study. It doesn’t have to be a simple matter of reading the same thing over and over, and then reciting what your notes say when test day arrives. 

These methods show that actively engaging with your learning material is how you internalize lessons better. Additionally, there is more than one strategy that you can opt to use depending on your preference and needs. With these different study strategies based on research, you’re guaranteed to find a new way to approach learning.