I’ve been in the test-taking, test-writing, or test-teaching mode for decades. I have shelves full of books on how to study for an exam. And in other blog posts, I’ve hammered hard on research showing that merely reading and re-reading info—what most test-takers do—has been proven to be ineffective. I’ve also written about several strategies that do work.
But here is a study and test-prep strategy that is often over-looked: Recitation. Study skills expert Walter Pauk notes in his popular how-to guide that “no single activity is more important in strengthening your memory than recitation.”
But don’t worry. I’m not suggesting you walk around talking to yourself. Rather, I’m recommending that you use a structured 3-step process for reciting info you need to know. Talking to yourself is only one of the three steps.
Step 1: Study by reading the material
If you’re using a text book to prepare for your exam, read aloud one paragraph at a time. Recall what your elementary school teachers probably taught you years ago: A paragraph has a topic sentence, and the rest of the paragraph supports the topic sentence. Being mindful of why a paragraph IS a paragraph helps you to stay focused. Then, read the entire paragraph.
Step 2: Convert the study material you have read
Stop. And I mean stop! Take pencil in hand, and start writing. (And by the way, research has shown that people learn better when they write their study concepts by hand, rather than type them out using a computer.) Based on what you have just read, write either (a) one or two keywords, or (b) a question. I recommend you write a question, because it is a built-in mechanism for providing clearer feedback on your mastery of the material.
Step 3: Test yourself on that paragraph
Look at the question you have written, and force yourself to answer it, either by speaking your answer aloud, or writing it on paper. I’ve seen firsthand in the thousands of people I’ve helped to prepare for the IBLCE exam that people truly learn the material when they write it down, or speak it out loud! If it’s just floating around in their head, they are unlikely to be able to apply that same information on an exam later.
Try it yourself
Here is a short paragraph from my book. Whether you know this information or not, try the three steps: read it aloud, convert the information to another format, and test yourself.
When compared with bottle-feeding, cup feeding is less physiologically stressful and offers other advantages as well. A carefully conducted study by Howard and colleagues was most impressive69 (see Research Highlight box). They showed that cup-feeding provided more physiologic stability (heart rate, respiratory rate, and oxygen saturation) compared with bottle-feeding. A later study confirmed this.70 Length of stay is reduced for infants who cup-feed.71Preterm newborns are more likely to be exclusively breastfeeding at discharge when they have been cup-fed rather than bottle-fed.65
Great, you’ve read it aloud. Now, write a few keywords, or a question. (Don’t continue reading this article until you’ve finished doing that.)
Okay, moving on. Did you choose to write a keyword or two, or did you write a question? If you used the keyword method, perhaps you wrote “cup advantages.” If you used the question method, maybe you wrote, “What are the advantages of cup feeding?” Or, if you felt your exam prep might be better with a more specific question, you could write, “What are 5 advantages of cup feeding?”
If you used the questioning method, you can see how it opens the door for reciting an answer, and let’s face it: The real exam is all about questions and answers!
Of course, reviewing later becomes a cinch. If you have jotted questions for each paragraph, you will have a ready-made review strategy in hand!
If done correctly and consistently, this method is simple to learn, and pays off during both initial studying and later review.
Now that you’ve tried this three-step approach, how well do you think it will work for you?