Different Study Methods and Comparing Studying Techniques

In order to successfully complete assignments and pass tests, students use a variety of different study methods. When comparing study methods with regard to educational topics, it is important to remember that each student is different, and each student should experiment with several different methods in order to find the combination that works best for them. It may be helpful to list some general ways of studying, along with their pros and cons.

Study Alone or Group Study

One of the first questions faced by most students is whether to study alone or with a group. Some students insist on studying alone, apart from other students, because it can help with concentration and focus while avoiding the drifting that often occurs when a group gathers to discuss a topic.

The main advantage of studying alone is the superior focus: Education experts say that each minute of good, focused time produces more valuable learning than five minutes of time broken by outside distractions. So, studying solo means more effective use of the student’s time.

At the same time, the disadvantage of studying alone is that the student lacks the interaction and intellectual stimulation of other students. Education is a process of learning about previously-unknown ideas and challenging long-held assumptions. Studying with a group can provide vital input and different perspectives from others that help to enrich each individual student’s journey.

The “shrinking outline” method

One popular method for effective studying is the “shrinking outline.” This method is often recommended by educators because it challenges the student to remember not only facts, but also their interrelation and structure as well.

This method is based on the fact that information is often presented during class lectures and in written sources in an outline format; the outline groups topics and subtopics according to their interrelation and importance.

To use this method, the student first outlines his or her class notes in the traditional outline format, then after reviewing the material over several days the student systematically condenses the outline, each time rewriting it with fewer subtopic divisions and less material.

After reviewing and rewriting the outline several times, it should be condensed down to only the handful of major points. To complete the exercise, the student then works to reverse the process by fleshing out the outline from memory, until the outline matches the original taken from class notes or writings. This “shrinking outline” method is considered quite effective for learning complex topics; the only downside is the amount of time spent in writing and rewriting a given outline repeatedly.


Cramming, the practice of studying a subject intensively immediately before a test or examination, is an age-old study method quite popular with students at all levels. When used as an adjunct to normal study during the school term, cramming can help to reinforce facts, figures and other specific information to be memorized.

The main drawback is that, all too often “instant learning is instant forgetting.” If a student has not been exposed to a particular topic before the cramming session, or if he or she has not studied a topic consistently during the weeks leading up to the test, the crammed information may not be retained in the student’s long-term memory. The student may pass the test, yet quickly forget the information.

Overall, it is best to strike a balance by using a combination of study methods to assure the best results. Students should try several methods, and work hard to practice those which work best for them.

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