Learning how to learn assignment

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Learning how to learn assignment

My father used to get so frustrated with one of my brothers. My father would say, with great exasperation, “I talk to you until I’m blue in the face…” Even though my father’s “talk” was—apparently—not very effective, it didn’t keep him from talking. Over and over again. Until he was blue in the face.

How many of us instructors are like my father? We tell our students about the best study strategies until we are blue in the face, and it feels like most of our students continue to use less effective methods.

Maybe we should take a different approach.

Carolyn R. Brown-Kramer (2021) asked her Intro Psych students to read one of four research articles where each article investigated the effectiveness of a study strategy. Two articles were about more effective study strategies: distributed practice (Seabrook et al., 2005) and practice testing (McDaniel et al., 2011). Two articles were about less effective study strategies: rereading (Rawson & Kintsch, 2005) and forming mental images (Schmeck et al., 2014).

Students were instructed to “write a three- to four-page paper summarizing and analyzing [their assigned article] critically” and then “drawing specific connections to how they study, how they could use the article’s results to improve their studying behavior, and their plans to adopt (or not to adopt) the strategy about which they had read.” (Contact Brown-Kramer for assignment instructions and scoring rubric.)

What impact did this assignment have on students?

  • Over the course of the term, students reported using more of the more effective strategies and fewer of the less effective strategies.

  • Students who read the practice testing article (McDaniel et al., 2011) did much better on the exams following this assignment than students who read the other three articles.

  • Students who were given this assignment did better on the exams following this assignment and in the course overall than students from an earlier term who were not given this assignment.

  • Students who reported using the more effective study strategies and using them more frequently did better on the exams and in the course overall.

Brown-Kramer (2021) has provided us with some pretty compelling evidence that there is something we can do as instructors that will help students change their study strategies.

I wonder what component of this assignment is key. For example, would the application piece be enough, or is the analytic section crucial? Or perhaps the analytic section ensures that students are reading the article carefully. In that case, would some other assignment instructions that would also ensure careful reading—such as answering a few targeted questions about different sections of the article—be just as effective?

Brown-Kramer’s assignment would fit as part of your coverage of research methods or memory. If you use it as part of your memory coverage, the research methods review would be a terrific application of distributive practice.



Brown-Kramer, C. R. (2021). Improving students’ study habits and course performance with a “learning how to learn” assignment. Teaching of Psychology, 48(1), 48–54. https://doi.org/10.1177/0098628320959926

McDaniel, M. A., Agarwal, P. K., Huelser, B. J., McDermott, K. B., & Roediger, H. L. (2011). Test-enhanced learning in a middle school science classroom: The effects of quiz frequency and placement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 103(2), 399–414. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0021782

Rawson, K. A., & Kintsch, W. (2005). Rereading effects depend on time of test. Journal of Educational Psychology, 97(1), 70–80. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-0663.97.1.70

Schmeck, A., Mayer, R. E., Opfermann, M., Pfeiffer, V., & Leutner, D. (2014). Drawing pictures during learning from scientific text: Testing the generative drawing effect and the prognostic drawing effect. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 39(4), 275–286. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cedpsych.2014.07.003

Seabrook, R., Brown, G. D. A., & Solity, J. E. (2005). Distributed and massed practice: From laboratory to classroom. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 19(1), 107–122. https://doi.org/10.1002/acp.1066


About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology since 1992. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award. She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed. and is co-author with Charles Stangor on Introduction to Psychology, 4.0.