Active Study Strategies

Cognitive science research has shown us that active studying is a method or strategy where the student cognitively engages and interacts with the material they are learning. With that reference, we identify passive studying as consuming information through merely reading or listening, whereas active studying is the processing of information by engaging in the content through discussion, analysis, synthesis, problem-solving, reflection, questioning and practice. 

Examples of Passive Strategies

  • Flashcards
  • Rewriting notes
  • Reread chapter summary & outline
  • Memorize theories
  • Reread textbook
  • Highlight material
  • Review highlighted material

Examples of Active Strategies

  • Explain material in your own words, speak it aloud
  • Formulate and write down questions as you read
  • Answer practice questions and seek to do additional practice questions/problems
  • Relate theories to real life examples, interests or stories
  • Develop a concept map or flow chart to organize material
  • Break diagrams down into smaller parts to explain how each part of the process works together
  • Participate in group discussions and group study sessions

Introducing Active Study Strategies into your Routine

There are a few things you can do to help increase your ability to learn new concepts or ideas. The first is making the information meaningful by using active study strategies which include looking at relationships between ideas, understanding how ideas are connected to big picture concepts or relating new information to what you already know. To navigate the journey of active studying you can follow the following three steps, 1) prepare 2) attend 3) review. Each step connects to some of Study Lab’s links with valuable tools and resources that you can explore and utilize to maximize your study time and ensure that you understand and remember the information.

1. Prepare

To be able to focus on class and process information effectively it is important to prepare mentally for class and to become familiar with the information for the class. By preparing before class, you prevent your mind from wandering and your brain is already set in the mode to receive and process information. Being prepared for class also reduces stress and anxiety, and you will be able to focus which supports your likeliness to succeed. How to prepare for class:

  • Survey topics/concepts for class lectures
  • Read summaries and required readings
  • Preview lecture slides
  • Write down questions and thoughts of inquiry
  • Reflect over questions/comments to ask
  • Prepare outline/framework for notetaking
  • SQ3R Method for Effective Reading
  • Be Present - Prioritize Wellbeing

2. Attend

  • Listen actively to understand the material and answer the questions you formulated during preparation.
  • Engage: ask and share meaningful questions and comments.
  • Take notes: use shorthand abbreviations, which will allow you to write faster.
  • Cornell Note-taking System 

3. Review

Another especially important technique to remember information long-term is spaced repetition and review. To ensure that we can remember new learning long term, we must consistently review concepts and build relationships between material. Here are some resources and links to tools/techniques you can apply during spaced review.