Learning Techniques Supported by Cognitive Research

Reading time: 2
A Rubber Stamp On A White Background - Revision


Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
Read more about @TeacherToolkit

Are your students using the best study techniques to boost their achievement?

Discover which research-backed study techniques secondary school students use and how these techniques correlate with academic success and positive learning attitudes.

Secondary school students use a variety of study techniques, but not all are equally effective. In a new research paper, researchers explore ‘Which learning techniques supported by cognitive research do students use at secondary school?’,  (Ruiz-Martin et al., 2024)

Study Skills

This study examines the prevalence of research-supported techniques like retrieval practice and elaborative study, compared to other frequently used methods such as highlighting and rereading. It also explores how these techniques correlate with students’ academic performance and their beliefs about learning.

Understanding which study techniques are most effective is crucial for improving student outcomes and student wellbeing.

Research suggests that strategies like retrieval practice and elaborative study are linked to higher academic achievement and positive learning attitudes. However, students often rely on less effective methods. By identifying and promoting the use of research-backed techniques, teachers can help students study more effectively and achieve better results.

The purpose of this research (n = 5,063 students / 27 schools) was “to fnd out how pre-university students—many of whom will not pursue a university degree after their compulsory education—face academic challenges that require self-regulation skills, and how the techniques they use are associated with their school achievement and with their attitudes and beliefs toward learning.”

The research adjusted and validated “the instrument measuring students’ beliefs and attitudes toward learning; the following analyses were performed with the remaining data (n=2 414).”

Study Skills

Research recommendaitons

In the research paper, there is some discussion about fixed and growth mindsets, which I have avoided. Teachers can encourage students to use effective study techniques through explicit instruction and practice. Here are some actionable steps:

  1. Introduce retrieval practice: Encourage students to test themselves regularly using flashcards or practice quizzes.
  2. Promote elaborative study: Teach students to summarise information in their own words, create mind maps, and generate examples.
  3. Advocate for spaced practice: Help students plan their study sessions over time instead of cramming the night before exams.
  4. Manage study environments: Advise students to minimise distractions, such as listening to music or checking their phones while studying!

All of these things should be taught!

Reflection questions for teachers:

  1. How do you teach your students how to use effective study techniques?
  2. How often do your students engage in self-testing or retrieval practice?
  3. Are your students aware of the benefits of spaced practice?
  4. What strategies do you use to encourage elaborative study in your classroom?
  5. How do you help students create a distraction-free study environment?
  6. Do your students understand the link between effective study techniques and their grades?
  7. How can you integrate study skills instruction into your existing curriculum?
  8. What support can you provide to students who struggle with study skills?
  9. How do you measure the impact of different study techniques on student achievement?
  10. What professional development opportunities are available to help you learn more about effective study strategies?

The research concludes:

This study revealed that study techniques supported by cognitive research show a higher association with school achievement than other non-supported, frequently used study techniques.

Download the full paper.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.