Study Tips From a Psychology Professor

Studying is a thing that many students think they have mastered, but FAU professor Alan Kersten has a better idea of how to study


char Pratt

Photo by Andrew Fraieli | Science Editor

Andrew Fraieli, Science Editor

Cramming is the stereotypical way of studying in college, but it’s a horrible way of doing so, according to professor of psychology Alan Kersten at FAU. “Cramming can lead to sleep deprivation,” said Kersten, “and coffee isn’t going to help.”

To make more sense of how certain study tactics allow students to retain more and how others are a waste of time, Kersten explained the difference between short-term (or working memory) and long-term memory.

“Short-term memory doesn’t store, it manipulates,” said Kersten. Listening to someone causes the brain to compare what is heard to what it already knows.

Information only stays in short-term memory for about 30 seconds. According to Kersten, “[You] can restart the clock by thinking about it over and over, but as soon as you stop, in 30 seconds it will be gone.”

Kersten points out that “long-term is where you want [information], it’s where you retrieve it during the test [and] seems to be organized by meaning.”

Kersten gave the UP his best study tips, derived from a combination of experience with his students and expertise in psychology.

Study tip #1: Connect The Dots

“Think about meaning and how [the information] relates to other stuff in class. The more you relate to it, the easier it is to retrieve,” said Kersten. By doing so, it creates more connections in the brain physically, and makes it easier to retrieve that information because more things will trigger the memory.

“Sometimes students say they don’t know why they did bad if they studied for say six hours. Usually [what] they mean by studying, is that they were reading their notes over and over, which is not good,” explained Kersten. He reiterated that it needs to be an active process: “Ideally you want to test yourself on it,” calling it “transfer appropriate processing.” Memory is more about relationships to other things, making it easier to recall, not depth and strength of processing.

Study Tip #2: Repetition

Study over multiple periods of time, don’t cram. “Studying before an exam is something good to do,” [but the] notion of cramming before implies not studying before, which is bad,” Kersten said.

Kersten cited a psychologist from the 1800’s named Ebbinghaus as proof. He showed that between studying the “same amount of time all at once or spread out, [he] remembered better spread out,” according to Kersten. “[It’s] more efficient.”

He said this works because when studying is over multiple sessions, every review will give it more meaning and more connections in the brain, connecting differently each time, making it easier to bring up. “Studying all at once you will be in the same state of mind and not make as many connections,” he said.

Study Tip #3: Teach

“Try to explain [the subject] to someone, ‘Hey mom, I want to explain transfer appropriate processing to you;’ you’ll find holes in your knowledge.” By explaining the subject to someone else, Kersten explained, “you don’t realize a lot of the gaps. Even as simple as answering a question in class, you are more likely to remember that because it will be more distinct in your mind.”