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May 5, 2008

Expert outlines study tips to succeed on final exams

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - College and high school students tend to stop studying when they feel they know the subject, but a Purdue University memory and learning expert says the real learning takes place when students practice testing themselves.

"Our research shows that when students practice retrieving information as they would on a test, additional learning is taking place," says Jeffrey D. Karpicke, an assistant professor of psychological sciences who is a cognitive psychologist and memory expert. "However, before students are ready to practice test taking, there are two other steps they need to complete.

"First, collect and organize the material you'll be responsible for knowing on the exam. Create a list, or maybe a few lists, of all the key concepts and topics. This is more than just rewriting your notes, which a lot of students do, but there's not much evidence that merely copying your notes is an effective study strategy."

Second, students need to assess their comprehension of the material on the lists by comparing what they know to the information in their class notes or textbooks, Karpicke says. For example, if the first law of thermodynamics is a difficult concept on the list, then the student should go back to the textbook and class notes, or consider other resources such as a Web site or even a friend, that would be helpful.

"The next step may be the most important, but students don't do it as often as they should," he says. "You should look at each concept on the list and practice retrieving as much information as you can from memory, just as you would on a test. Don't reread your notes or textbook because you already did this in the second step."

When practicing retrieval, try to recall as much related information as possible, Karpicke says.

"Finally, don't just practice retrieving information one time. Even if you think you know it, our research shows that retrieving it about three or four more times can achieve big gains in learning."

Karpicke and Henry L. Roediger III, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Psychology at Washington University in St. Louis, co-authored "The Critical Importance of Retrieval for Learning" that appeared in February in Science.

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, (765) 494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

Source: Jeffrey D. Karpicke, (765) 494-0273, karpicke@purdue.edu

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu

Note to Journalists: Jeffrey D. Karpicke is pronounced car-PICKY

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