Am I Studying Effectively?

A couple of weeks ago, we published an article about evidence-based learning techniques where we glossed over the different utility levels of strategies. We thought we’d delve into what these learning techniques actually are for those of you who are interested in finding out which techniques are going to be the most useful to incorporate into your study!

High Utility Learning Techniques

Practice Testing 

It shouldn’t be news that practice testing is considered to be one of the most effective means of studying. Practice testing generally refers to formative testing done outside of class in the form of flash cards, practice questions or tests.  This is considered to be one of the most effective methods because it forces us to retain information by triggering elaborative retrieval processes. 

Distributive Practice 

Distributed practice basically refers to consistent studying that’s done over a longer period of time, compared with mass cramming. Theories postulate that this is an excellent learning technique because information retrieved a second time is more effective when there’s been sufficient time in between exposures. 

Moderate Utility Learning Techniques

Elaborative Interrogation

Elaborative interrogation is a technique which prompts students to ask the question ‘why?’. Theory suggests that this technique works well by supporting the integration of new information with prior knowledge. The key to effective interrogation is to ask yourself to generate an answer for an explicitly stated fact, e.g. ‘why does this fact make sense?’, ‘why is this true?’. 


The essence of self-explanation is to have students explain the process of their learning. Similar to elaborative interrogation, this technique forms a bridge for the connection of existing information with new information. When studying mathematics, for example, it might be advantageous to ask yourself: ‘why is the numerator 12 and the denominator 6 in this step?’. 

Interleaved Practice 

Interleaved practice is defined by ‘blocking’ of study so that multiple study methods and techniques are covered in a single study session. The theory here is that interleaved practice exposes students to the different aspects of a particular issue, and provides a holistic understanding of a topic. 

Low Utility Learning Techniques


Summarisation, as the technique aptly describes, has a student identify the key learning points and capture the essence of it in note-taking form. It works if the notes omit the unimportant sections. Unfortunately, proper summarisation requires extensive training, and is also dependent on a variety of factors that could impact its effectiveness, e.g. readability of materials, level of pre-existing knowledge.

Highlighting and underlining 

Highlighters are a key instrument in a student’s toolbox. Theory suggests that being able to actively select key information is much more beneficial than broadly reading a prescribed text. However, this technique is often overused, with students highlighting extraneous materials, diminishing its effectiveness. 

Imagery Use for Text Learnings

This technique involves creating a mental image to represent written or verbal text. It is thought to be useful because the act of developing a mental visualisation involves both organising one’s thoughts and also integrating prior knowledge with newly learned material. The reason this technique is limited is because it’s restricted to having content that can be formed into mental images. 


Re-reading is a fairly self-explanatory learning technique, and is frequently described as a method for self-regulated learning. Reading things multiple times increases the amount of information retained and encoded. However, it’s just not as effective as other more active forms of learning. 

Dunlosky J, Rawson KA, Marsh EJ, Nathan MJ, Willingham DT. Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest. 2013;14(1):4-58. doi:10.1177/1529100612453266

Jessica Hinh

Jessica Hinh