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Rooting for topical questions study model

Many students use learning techniques that are time consuming and give the illusion of mastery.

In Summary
  • The teacher or even student generates possible questions from a topic of study.
  • The student studies the topic with the possible questions in mind.
Pupils in a class at Manera Primary School after winds destroyed roofs of their classrooms on Monday.
Pupils in a class at Manera Primary School after winds destroyed roofs of their classrooms on Monday.
Image: ROBERT OMOLLO

Too often people imagine that long hours of studying are the best path to being a model, straight-A student. On the contrary, research shows that highly successful students actually spend less time studying than their peers do; they just study more effectively. Since schools were shut abruptly in mid-March, students have been grappling with online and other study models.

Many teachers and parents are of the impression that online learning is effective. Nothing could be further from the truth. In this era of social media and digital distractions, many students—and adults—do a lot of multitasking.

But there is no such thing as successful multitasking, because much time is wasted on context switching, where the brain has to restart and refocus. A student who is studying biology but occasionally checks his texts and scrolls through Instagram and Facebook has a low intensity of focus. Though he spends three hours “studying,” the work accomplished is minimal.

On the other hand, a student who takes steps to focus solely on biology has a high-intensity of focus. Though she spends only an hour studying, she accomplishes more than her distracted classmate did in 3 hours. Even the student who solely focuses on biology for one hour has a level of ineffectiveness because she is not doing guided studying but generalised reading.

Many students use learning techniques that are time consuming and give the illusion of mastery. They become familiar with ideas and information in preparation for a test, but forget it a week later because their learning techniques never led to long-term learning.

I suggest the topical questions study model, which is uniquely effective. The teacher or even student generates possible questions from a topic of study. The student studies the topic with the possible questions in mind. As the student studies the topic, s/he answers the questions generated to master the content.

The model entails five steps:

Pre-test: When students practice answering questions, even incorrectly, before learning the content, learning is enhanced. Research has shown that pre-testing improves post-test results.

Spaced practice: Spacing out study sessions—focusing on a topic for a short period on different days—has been shown to improve retention and recall more than massed practice.

Self-quizzing: Exams have a negative connotation in this era of standardised testing, but it is a form of active retrieval practice. Students loathe the word exam. However, we must face the reality. Let us encourage students to make test questions for themselves as they learn a new concept, thinking about the types of questions the teacher might ask on a quiz or test.

Interleaving practice: Students should not rely on blocked practice. It is time wasting. A more effective method of studying is to work on a set of topical question especially if they are spiral in nature.

Paraphrasing and reflecting: Many of us have read a few paragraphs in a textbook only to realise we didn’t retain a single concept. The topical questions study model helps with this.

Innovator of Signal Topical Questions Study Model