When you study, what do you think about? Believe it or not what you think about while studying can change how well your study strategy goes. To be clear that doesn’t just apply to students who are thinking about the cute girl on the other side of the room, or the basketball game on the weekend, or what color they’ll be painting their nails. If your thoughts have gone out to lunch while you are studying, you haven’t really qualified as studying. That’s an issue of focus, and at this point we are talking about the depth with which a student processes material.
A Samford University study and video series tested the impact a number of factors had on student success. Interestingly, many of the normal factors you may have thought were important weren’t factors at all. Instead, the study found that a primary element of effective study sessions was a student processing information deeply.
Students may find that deep processing feels a bit unnatural and spend most of their time with shallow processing, a process which involves focusing on things that are more or less meaningless. When students spend hours attempting to memorize vocabulary definitions word-for-word to regurgitate them on a test, or when students re-read a text book to prep for a test, they are employing shallow processing strategies. Scanning through notes, memorizing accent mark placement, or other similar strategies are a bit like learning to sing a song in a language you don’t know. You can mouth the words, you may like the tune, but you get no meaning from the song.
Conversely, deep processing focuses on subjective meanings of information. When students study with a deep processing mindset, they continuously ask questions of the text. They want to know real-world applications of the information. They relate it to previously held information, personal experience, or an important idea from earlier learning experiences. According to the results from the Samford study, deep processing resulted in anywhere from a 37% to 42% retention increase.
So, as it turns out, your opinions do matter. Having an opinion about material – a deep processing activity – can lead to better retention of that information. Who knew that you could supercharge your study sessions by thinking?