Effective Study Strategies

So, what are effective study strategies for long-term learning?

Retrieval practice1TIP: Knowing that you don't know something before the exam is better than finding out the day of the exam.

Retrieval practice is when you actively recall information (concepts, ideas, etc) from memory and “put it on paper” in different formats (writing, flow charts, diagrams, graphs). At the LSC we often call retrieval practice “Blank Page Testing,” because you just start with a blank piece of paper and write things down. It’s especially helpful because it shows you what you do (and do not) understand, so you can identify what topics you need to review/practice more. Retrieval practice can be challenging and requires a lot of mental effort — but this struggle to remember, recall, and make connections is how we learn.

To learn more about Blank Page Testing, see Mike Chen’s video:


Interleaving is when you work on or practice several related skills or concepts together. You practice one skill or concept for a short period of time, then switch to another one, and perhaps another, then back to the first. It not only helps you learn better, it keeps you from falling behind in your other classes! So please go ahead and do some work for the classes you don’t have an exam in this week! It will not only help you learn your exam material better, it will help you stay caught up.

Spaced (or distributed) practice3

In spaced practice, you spread out practice or study of material in spaced intervals, which leads to better learning and retention. Spaced practice is the opposite of cramming!

Get sleep and make sure you eat and stay hydrated!

dog sleeping on a linear algebra book

Your brain works better when you are rested, hydrated, and nourished. Though it might seem effective to push through without taking a break and stay up studying all night (see the page on strategies that don’t work), it won’t help you in the long run. Instead, develop a study plan, eat a good meal, and have a bottle of water nearby when you take your exam. You will learn and understand the material better if you have a plan – and you will probably need to this information for the next prelim anyway!

Tip: Piper knows that sleeping with your books under your pillow can help with learning! How does this magic work, you might wonder? Though the information in your book won’t travel via osmosis to your brain through the pillow, you will get sleep which improves your long-term learning! Sleep and a good study plan are a great study strategy combo!


Up Next: Guidelines for creating a study schedule

1 Agarwal, P. K. (2020). Retrieval Practice: A Powerful Strategy for Learning – Retrieval Practice. Unleash the Science of Learning. Retrieved from https://www.retrievalpractice.org/retrievalpractice.

2 Pan, S.C. (2015). The Interleaving Effect: Mixing It Up Boosts Learning. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-interleaving-effect-mixing-it-up-boosts-learning/

3 Weinstein, Y. & Smith, M. (2016). Learn How to Study Using… Spaced Practice. Retrieved from https://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2016/7/21-1