Authors: Peter C. Brown, Henry Roediger and Mark A. McDaniel
APA Style Citation
Brown, C.B., Roediger, H., & McDaniel, M. (2014). Make it stick: The science of successful learning. Harvard University Press.
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Peter Brown, Henry Roediger, and Mark McDaniel set out to give practical advice on strategies to study more efficiently and effectively. Often, students spend hours poring over material while using rote memorization to cram information into their memories before a large exam. Cognitive science has demonstrated that these strategies are ineffective, but change has been slow to move to more effective strategies. Make it Stick sets out to dispel myths of learning that many use but to little effect, and instead replace these methods with more effective strategies that have been vetted and supported by research.
Educators hope that students remember content for exams, but more generally, almost any educator will speak to the importance of applying the content to practical situations and critical thinking skills. This book is for any student or educator who wants to implement successful study strategies that lead to long-term retention.
The interleaving process allows students to see how seemingly disparate topics are related. If a psychology class teaches parts of the brain in the biological bases of behavior chapter, they can review these concepts in the memory chapter and again in the clinical chapter. By reviewing the content and finding the relationship between concepts, students understand that information does not exist in silos, and that the information can be applied in multiple settings. Interleaving can also occur when practicing skills, recursive skills applied in different ways can help students transfer these skills to novel situations. If an educator practices the skill of writing an FRQ, students can practice mini-FRQs at the start of the course, complete verbal FRQs via short videos, and apply the same FRQ skill in partners or small groups.
Information can be layered and reviewed until students master both content and skill.
Students often sit in class and claim to understand what the teacher says. They can look at flashcards and read their notes, but when it comes time to take the exam, they often still struggle to retrieve the content. Retrieval practice must involve the testing effect in which students actually test themselves on what they know or do not know. Teachers can conduct class discussions in which students take notes but test themselves at the end of the class and write down everything they can remember. What they cannot recall will guide their studying as they have a clear path and focus on what they still need to study. This can also be done electronically with online quizzing sites or paper and pencil exit slips. These tests need not be extensive; a few questions can often allow both instructor and student to understand better where students need extra support in their learning. Using mnemonics can also support student learning by serving as a quick retrieval cue to bring back the information to be remembered. Buzz words or visual analogies are also helpful to achieve this goal.
Once a major assessment has been given, time should be provided to reflect on what students have or have not mastered. They should examine the incorrect questions and review the options to determine the correct response. They should write down what confused them and then continue to explain how they will remember this concept in the future. This metacognition alone has been demonstrated to improve student understanding of the material. Learning is taking place by focusing on what still needs to be understood and thinking deeply about how that can be achieved.
Students should also be careful to check their biases, such as confirmation bias or overconfidence, that may now allow them to understand and process all available data.
Multitasking is a tremendous suck of time, and changing between tasks necessitates that the student reorientates themselves around the task at hand. The Pomodoro method asks students to set a timer for 25 minutes in which they are solely focused on a singular task. This efficiency should allow for more concentration, and the effect will be to create a better project in less time than if multitasking. After the 25 minutes are up, the student can take a break, text a friend, have a snack, or engage in another activity that they enjoy.
We know that when students use rote memorization to recall information, it is ineffective. Instead, they should try to make the material relevant to their own lives. This semantic encoding provides a deeper processing level and leads to long-term information retention. Any opportunity to demonstrate how material is relevant to the individual (self-referent effect) will create a deeper level of understanding.
Finally, students who cram for an exam may remember information the next day for a test, but they will find that this information is not retained in the long term. Distributed practice or studying in small chunks is an effective way to transfer information into long-term memory. All things being equal, a student who spends 4 hours studying in 30-minute chunks should perform better and remember information longer than if they were to study for 4 hours straight.
Make It Stick provides learning strategies that are backed by cognitive science and that have been demonstrated to be effective. These strategies can be applied or amended to apply to all content areas and across all grade levels.
Psychological Figures and Concepts
False consensus effect
Information processing model
Systems 1 and 2
Trial and error
APA Blog: Takeaways from Make it Stick
Online Learning Insights
Experience Life: Make it Stick: How to Learn Effectively
The Scope of Science: 3 Study Tips from the Book Make it Stick