2017 was a year filled with interesting and informative educational research. Two areas of particular interest are in the creation of both effective studying and effective reading strategies to assist students in the learning process.
When asked about an upcoming test, students often overestimate how prepared they really are, and they frequently study less for the exam than they should; this can lead to disastrous results. However, new research has highlighted two effective strategies to ensure students are adequately prepared. The first study, a review of 118 previous studies on the topic, determined that taking low-stakes practice tests was one of the most effective ways to help students remember critical information. According to the researchers, “Research demonstrates that students who take practice tests often outperform students in non-testing learning conditions such as restudying, practice, filler activities, or no presentation of the material.”
This conclusion is actually not surprising. Repeated exposure to material, especially if it is spaced out over a period of time, stimulates the growth of neural connections in the brain, reinforcing the information and solidifying its importance. In addition, since the practice tests have little associated stress, students can absorb the content at their own pace without fear of failing in their attempt.
AceReader also follows this reasoning to achieve results. Each of the Drills is presented four different times to help stimulate the brain and allow the reader to adjust to (and master) reading at a faster pace.
The second study presented the benefits of having students plan out the steps they will need to take to pass an upcoming test. They had students contemplate which academic resources they needed to use for studying, determine why each of these resources would be useful, and strategize how they would use their resources to best effect. Students who engaged in this process “reported being more self-reflective about their learning throughout the class, used their resources more effectively, and outperformed students in the control condition by an average of one third of a letter grade in the class.”
This conclusion also is not very surprising. Critical thinking is an integral part of the learning process [see this AceReader blog post], and the evaluation and appropriate use of resources depends on thinking critically. When in this mode, students focus more of their attention on the material presented, and they organize themselves more effectively so they can pull out the important information from what they are taught. As a result, they feel more confident about the learning experience, and their grades rise.
To make good use of study resources, students must be able to comprehend the written material they use, and successful reading comprehension makes use of strategies that link familiar patterns. These include linking the text to prior knowledge; making predictions about where the author will go with his words; and recognizing the text’s relevance to personal interests, past positive experiences, or future goals.
Discussing purposeful reading goals with students before assigning them a reading task helps them to recall related ideas filed away in long-term memory storage; such discussion also increases student awareness of how the reading may be personally relevant. Making predictions encourages curiosity about the upcoming material, attentiveness to details, and engagement in the students’ brains as they think actively about what they read to construct meaning from the text.
Many students, however, do not make use of predictive and engagement activities when left to their own devices. One teacher has devised a means of encouraging her students to actively engage with the material through the use of writing prompts and the ubiquitous Post-It notes. Each note contains a prompt about writer intent; personal experience; or predictions of where the text might be headed by drawing on perceived intent as well as the students’ own experiences of events. This process is appealing to students because there are no wrong answers, and the assignment requires very little writing – each Post-It already contains the prompt, and students only need to fill in their thoughts on where the prompt may be leading. That makes this activity low-stress, and, since it follows the general principles of reading comprehension, the outcome is usually quite positive.
Some of the prompts that could be used are:
- I think the reading will tell me …
- I already know things about this, so I predict …
- This topic similar to what I’ve learned before, because it reminds me of …
The end result of all these prompt notes is greater understanding of the material, increased memory of the content, and a reduced amount of re-reading or review needed for test time. And, as students become more proficient at understanding written material, reading becomes a more pleasurable experience for them, leading them to enjoy reading as a life-long activity, with all the benefits and possibilities that carries with it.
 Adesope , Olusola O., Trevisan, Dominic A., and Sundararajan, Narayankripa. (February 1, 2017). Rethinking the Use of Tests: A Meta-Analysis of Practice Testing. Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.3102/0034654316689306?journalCode=rera&
 Chen, Patricia et al. (April 27, 2017). Strategic Resource Use for Learning: A Self-Administered Intervention that Guides Self-Reflection on Effective Resource Use Enhances Academic Performance. Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0956797617696456
 Willis, Judy, MD. (nd). Aiding Reading Comprehension with Post-Its: A simple, low-stress strategy that helps students engage with, understand, and remember what they read. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/aiding-reading-comprehension-post-its