How to Use the Study Questions

The ideal way to use the study questions is to ignore them initially and read the chapter front to back like a story. Most students need to get started several days in advance and read one major section at a time, to avoid last minute cramming.

Later on, use the study questions to make sure you are clear on the basic points of the chapter. After you have given yourself a chance to soak up the information naturally, use the study questions to check your comprehension. Follow this procedure:

Do not test yourself immediately after reading. Wait at least a minute. Turn your mind to some other subject.

Clear out your short-term memory in order to determine whether you can retrieve the information from long-term memory. For research showing why this is true, see the study of Judgments of Learning–JOLs–in Chapter 6.

If using a print-out, take a blank sheet of paper and set the paper over the text column, so that you see only the column of study questions. If using a smartphone, answer the question without looking at the text above it.

The important thing is not to have answers visible while you are testing yourself. Only in that way can you test long-term memory retrieval rather than recognition memory.

Without looking at the text, ask yourself each study question and see if you can discuss the answer intelligently from memory. If you cannot, read the material again.

Do not be satisfied until you can go through the whole chapter answering questions without looking at the text. Then you should get a top grade on the quiz, particularly if your teacher elects to base quiz items directly on topics mentioned in the study questions.

Teachers: my strategy was to use a stratified random sample of the study questions to generate items for each test. My tests were 20 items long, and the last two items were about class activities. That left 18 based on the book.

For every six study questions, one (at random) would appear in the form of a question on the test. This insured even coverage and worked well for me.

Students: your teacher may do something completely different. So read your syllabus, and ask questions if you are in doubt.

Do not simply look back and forth between the study questions and the text column. That is an ineffective study technique, as discussed on the previous page. If you look at the answer you will have it fresh in your mind, then you will feel you know the answer, even if you cannot recall it later.

To avoid the false reassurance of relying on recognition memory, just wait a while before self-testing. Come back to the questions later, and give yourself a genuine retrieval test.

What is the handy procedure for getting top grades?

Not everybody needs to do this. Every term a few students said they could read a chapter once, understand it, and get a high grade on the test.

This tends to depend on the chapter, though. A student with a strong background in biology might have an easy time with Chapter 2 (The Human Nervous System) but might need more time to study Chapter 5 (Conditioning). That is normal.

Sometimes, after the term was over, I asked students which chapters they found hardest or easiest to learn. Most found the chapters toward the end of the book (leaning toward social science) easier than those at the front of the book (about natural science).

I thought that was not a bad thing. The course was front-loaded in difficulty and became easier toward the end. At our school, students had time to drop the course before midterm, if they were failing, and that was another reason to put more difficult material first.


Write to Dr. Dewey at psywww@gmail.com.


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