Studying Tips for Your Students: Concepts/Vocabulary

With apologies to Liam Neeson (who I hope reads my weekly blog): “I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for knowledge, I can tell you I don’t have a magic spell. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me an asset for students and staff alike. If you heed my advice now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will teach you.”

Once again I am going to pull from my past as a Russian instructor and try to give some tips to you this week that may help your students, even though they aren’t learning a foreign language. You see, a lot of the things I thought only applied to linguistics can be applied elsewhere. So, pardon my myopic preconceived ideas and let’s see how I can help.

The first thing I thought might help your students is the ability to acquire and retain information (mostly vocabulary associated within a given topic). With that, I used to teach three principles of memory: frequency, recency, and vividness. Let’s take a quick look at each one.

Frequency is how often you see a word (or concept). The more times we come across it, the more likely it will stay with us. In regards to studying, here’s how you get students to remember something using frequency: spiraling. I have used this theory with great success, and it works something like this: take a quick look at what you are studying, put it away. Return to it an hour later and quickly study it, put it away. Return to it three hours later, put it away. Before you go to bed, quickly study, and then put it away. And so on. The time intervals lengthen, as you study. You end up spending only minutes studying, rather than hours.

Recency simply means that you have to ask yourself, “When was the last time I saw this concept/word/phrase/etc.?” The more recent it is, the more likely you are to remember it. That breaks down to recalling significant ideas and putting them into your short-term memory, especially before exams.

The last one I will write about today is vividness. That is, how important to you personally is the thing you are studying? This may take some creativity on your part, as you are to create mnemonic devices or assign some sort of personal novel distinctness to what you are studying. For example, if I was studying the varying sizes of something, I would draw them, make them proportional, and label them. Small letters for ¼ dram, and much larger letters for a 4 dram bottle.

Once again, these tips are not an easy fix for all students; some students find success with doing these things, while others find them as a hindrance to learning. It is up to the student to do some metacognitive analysis (a later topic) and figure out what is best for himself/herself.


Steve Holsonback
Instructional Media Design Specialist
Center for Academic & Professional Excellence
Ext. 3425


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