Helping Students Study Better – Part II

In part 1 of this two part series, we looked at the challenges many of us in education are having with trying to help our students learn and study more effectively. The article presented the research about what we know about how students study, those study strategies and approaches that have been shown to be effective, and some beginning ideas about how we can help students better study.  In part II of this piece, we will look more closely at ways to implement and support students in using effective study strategies and habits. (If you missed it, you can read it HERE.

We know from the research that students commonly don't engage in effective study habits or strategies; they procrastinate and don't study as long as they think they do (Gurung, 2023). We also know they use mostly ineffective methods, especially if used alone. Students also tend to equate time studying as evidence of effort but rereading and highlighting requires little learning effort and gives students a false sense of material mastery when all they really have is material familiarity (Blasiman et al., 2017; Karpicke, 2009; Weimer, 2018). 

What appears to be emerging is that we need to teach students about effective study habits and strategies and consider how to integrate active engagement of these practices with our support and guidance. This means potentially thinking about where you can incorporate this into your curriculum. 

Potential Steps 

Become more knowledgeable

The first step is for faculty to become knowledgeable about effective learning and studying strategies. Research has found that faculty and students are not well-versed in effective study strategies (Hunter & Lloyd, 2018; Morehead et al., 2016). Becoming better versed in effective strategies as well as those that are not as effective, will help you teach students about effective methods and why the ones they use have been shown not to be effective. It will also help them put together a study practice that works. We need to do more. Hopefully, these two articles will help along with those in the reference lists. A quick Google search will reveal a plethora of resources and information. Your institution's student support or learning center or a center for teaching excellence, if one exists, may also be helpful. But simply teaching them or providing them with information about study strategies isn't enough. 

Use Study Strategy and Habit Surveys

I believe many of us realize that we need to do more than we may have anticipated to help our students study better and be successful. In addition to providing information about which study strategies have been effective, having them look at their current study methods and habits may create more willingness to change (Gurung, 2023). This can be achieved through surveys asking about what study strategies they use and how often, including queries about those we know are most common among students but mostly ineffective and those we know are effective. The surveys should also ask about study habits and behaviors, such as whether they create a study schedule, when they start studying for an exam, whether they are in a distraction-free environment, whether they study alone or with one or more others, etc. Sharing and reviewing the results with the students as part of the process supports students' potential to be more willing to incorporate effective strategies (Gurung, 2023). 

You can develop your own surveys or consider using ones developed by Dr. Regan A. R. Gurung, associate vice provost and executive director for the Center for Teaching and Learning at Oregon State University.

Have students create a study schedule

I have discovered that most students don't schedule studying, or if they do, it is done in an unrealistic way. When I have asked students to create a study schedule after discussing important strategies to consider, like when the exams are for all courses, sleep, eating, classes, and other commitments important to them, I commonly get back a schedule with many hours blocked as study time. These can be from 7 PM to midnight and literally all day blocked on the weekends. Neither of which is doable or sustainable. So, it seems we actually need to help them understand how to create an effective schedule and not just a study schedule but a daily and weekly schedule that contains everything from classes and exams to activities of daily living to breaks and time for relaxation, loved ones, and personal enjoyment activities. In one program, we surveyed the students, taught them about effective time management and scheduling strategies and approaches, and required them to make and submit a schedule so that we could review it and provide feedback. They also had to journal each week about how well the schedule worked or didn't. 

Help Optimize Current Study Strategies

In a 2018 study by Miyatsu et al., he and his colleagues took a different approach. Since the research repeatedly reveals that students continue to use less effective study strategies such as rereading and highlighting or underlining, and they are resistant to change, their approach was to explore whether helping students maximize their methods could be beneficial. The premise rests on the idea that while some of the most common strategies used by students are considered less effective, it doesn't mean they are completely ineffective. Even ineffective methods are better than not studying at all. I would venture to guess many of us used highlighting and rereading as part of how we studied. So, rather than dismiss these approaches as invalid, Miyatsu et al. sought to clarify when these strategies could result in effective learning and studying. 


We know rereading is problematic relative to learning and retention because it is considered rather passive, takes little effort, and results in a sense of content familiarity, not mastery (Blasiman et al., 2017; Dunlosky et al., 2013; Karpicke et al., 2009). However, if done correctly, rereading can actually be effective by incorporating the concept of the spacing effect

Part I of this article series discussed distributed or spaced practice as an effective evidence-based study strategy. This strategy refers to spreading out learning over time, which increases long-term retention, versus massing practice or cramming, which is studying a large amount of information in a short amount of time. Applying the spacing effect to rereading can become a more effective study method. Two concepts to know are lag and retention interval. The lag interval refers to the time interval between repeated study sessions of the same material. The retention interval refers to the period of time between a student's first exposure to information and when they are tested on it. 

There is variability in the research results. However, in relation to rereading, spacing out the first and second read of material (the lag interval) is beneficial to long-term retention, and having a long lag time with a delayed retention interval (when the test is given) resulted in better test performance (Miyatsu et al., 2018). What this means is that students should space out when they first read material to when they reread it to study, and there should be some space between their rereading or studying and when they take the exam. However, it is important to mention that there is no agreement on what constitutes a long lag time or optimal retention interval. The take-home point here is to encourage students to space their studying or rereading out, and preferably not study the morning of the exam, which is why creating a study schedule based on when exams are is so important.  

Highlighting and Underlining

I think we would all admit to this one. Although highlighting or underlining is considered fairly ineffective, it can be converted to more effective by teaching students how to do it better. Some of the main problems with this study practice are that students either highlight everything or don't highlight the essential information. This is commonly due to their inability to know what is important and can be affected by their overall reading skill. The good news is they can learn to become better at highlighting (Miyatsu et al., 2018). 

One way is by providing students with well-written instructional objectives and teaching them how to use them to highlight the key information in the textbook they are being asked to learn.Consider providing an example. As an assignment, give students a set of instructional objectives and accompanying textbook reading pages and ask them to highlight the important points as guided by the instructional objectives. You do the same. Then, share the results and review it together. This can help students see whether they effectively highlighted the important content and how to hone in on the key information better. In addition, there are resources to help students learn how to highlight more effectively (see resource list). You can check with your institution's student learner centers to see if they offer highlighting training sessions. 

Although it may seem a bit unsettling that at the master's level of education, we need to help our students study better, the evidence seems clear that we do. How we do this will be an individual program matter. Hopefully, these two articles have shed some light and some suggestions and resources for how to incorporate this information and support into your curriculum and offer it to your students 


Blasiman, R. N., Dunlosky, J., & Rawson, K. A. (2016). The what, how much, and when of study strategies: comparing intended versus actual study behavior. Memory, 25(6), 784-792.

Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving students' learning with effective learning techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4-58.

Gurung, R. A. R. (2023). Give your students tools for effective learning. The Teaching Professor.     tools-for-effective-learning/

Hunter, A. S., & Lloyd, M. E. (2018). Faculty discuss study strategies, but not the best ones: A survey of suggested exam preparation techniques for difficult courses across disciplines. Scholarship of teaching and learning in Psychology, 4(2), 1-5-114.

Karpicke, J. D., Butler, A. C., & Roediger III, H. L. (2009). Metacognitive strategies in student learning: Do students practice retrieval when they study on their own? Memory, 17(4), 471-479. doi:10.1080/09658210802647009

Miyatsu, T., Nguyen, K., & McDaniel, M. A. (2018). Five popular study strategies: Their pitfalls and optimal implementations. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 13(3), 390-407. doi:10.1177/17456916177110510

Morehead, K., Rhodes, M. G., & DeLozier, S. (2016). Instructor and student knowledge of student strategies. Memory, 24(2), 257-271.

Weimer, M. (2018). Study strategies: What the research tells us. The Teaching Professor.

Highlighting Resources

Holt, P. (2023). The highlighting method: A guide to marking what is important.

Terada, Y. (2021). Highlighting is ineffective – Here's how to change that. Edutopia.


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