Top learning techniques

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Every student is different, which means that their learning style will vary too. For example, whilst some students prefer to spend days poring over their textbooks, others prefer to create cue cards from the notes that they’ve made in lectures.

In recent years, online learning has become increasingly popular as students realise the benefits of learning in their own homes, at their own pace. However, this learning format comes with its own challenges that require adapted learning techniques.

You need to find the learning practices that work best for you to get the most out of your course. It may take some trial and error to find the best technique, which is why it’s best to start trying different methods as early as possible on your course.

We’ve compiled a number of learning techniques that can help you to maximise the success of your study sessions and provide you with a good foundation for your exams.

What are the top learning techniques for students?

Some of the best techniques for learning include retrieval practice, spaced practice and collaboration. These methods are designed to keep your brain active through information recollection and creating connections between topics so that you have a better overall understanding.

The techniques featured in this article are effective for students that attend in-person classes and those that learn online too. Research shows that cramming in revision in the lead up to exams, which is favoured by most students, is ineffective compared to other learning styles.

Continue reading to find out the learning strategies that have been scientifically proven to increase your knowledge intake and understanding of topics.

  1. Retrieval practice

One of the best ways to improve your learning is to try and recall information that you have previously obtained. At the beginning of each study session, you should try to recall the topics that you covered in your previous session or online lesson. You can do this by writing bullet points about the topic from memory and then double-checking that you have remembered the information correctly.

This method will get your brain working faster than if you just re-read your revision or lecture notes. Another option is to take an online quiz or practice test so that you can identify areas that you are stronger in and the areas that you should prioritise in your next study session.

Many students find it incredibly effective to talk about the topic to a friend or family member. It’s also a good idea to try and contact your fellow students to see if they would be willing to act as a study partner over video call or email.

You will find yourself remembering more about the topic as you verbally describe and explain each concept or fact. Practice retrieval will reinforce your knowledge of the topic, especially if the person you are talking to asks questions.

  1. Practice testing

Not only does taking practice tests familiarise you with the exam layout and question formats, but they will also highlight gaps in your knowledge that you can work on.

At BARBRI, we give our students several multiple-choice tests that are delivered in an exam style. The answers to the questions and guidance will only be offered once all of the questions have been completed. There are four mock tests throughout the course, including two 90-question practice tests and a full SQE1 exam with all 360 questions.

Taking regular practice tests can help to ease the stress and anxiety that accompanies the actual exams. It will also help you to consolidate your knowledge into answering actual questions.

  1. Elaborative Interrogation

This learning technique involves thinking of questions about the topics that you are studying so that you can add background information. You will form your own interpretation of the topics rather than just absorbing what you are being told from other resources.

You can build on existing knowledge that you may already have. It’s helpful to form your own connections between topics or conduct further research into a particularly complex area to gain an understanding of the bigger picture.

  1. Summarisation

You are exposed to large volumes of information when you are studying for exams. This can often get confusing as you try to remember it all at once. However, a good learning technique is to summarise the most important information and factors from each topic.

Try reading a passage in a textbook or making notes in a lecture and then pick out the essential facts and ideas. You should try to focus on the keywords and phrases to get a better understanding of the principal factors of the topic.

This technique is best applied straight after a lesson or study session so that you can summarise everything that you have learnt. It will also highlight any areas that you are unsure about so that you can talk about them with your personal tutor or study buddies.

Summarising topics will make it easier to revise nearer the exam as you can pick out the key components from each topic, rather than having to read through pages and pages of information.

  1. Spaced practice

College students are notorious for trying to cram lots of studying into each day as they near an exam. However, this technique can be very stressful and ineffective. A better alternative is to spread out your study time in the weeks and months leading up to an exam so that you can take the information in more manageable chunks.

Spreading study sessions over a long period of time requires advance planning. You will need to organise and plan your sessions at the beginning of the semester to maximise the method’s success.

You will be able to retain more information in the long run because you can focus on each topic in manageable chunks. Although cramming sessions might seem effective before an exam, you are likely to forget the information in the following weeks and months because you didn’t spend long enough on each section.

  1. Collaborate

Online learning can be very solitary, which can have an impact on your studies. It’s good to talk to your peers and tutors where possible so that you can get help with topics that you are struggling with or expand your knowledge.

We assign every student a Learning Coach, who you will have contact with at least once every two weeks. Your personal mentor can help you go over what you are learning and clarify areas that you are confused about or would like extra guidance with.

You should make a note of your tutors’ office hours so that you can arrange a meeting in advance. It’s also beneficial to attend workshops so that you can discuss work with other students. It’s likely that you will have different strengths and weaknesses with your peers, which is a good reason to arrange study sessions.

Explaining topics to someone else can reinforce your knowledge, whilst a fellow student could help you to see a topic from a different perspective.

  1. Interleaving

Interleaving is a technique that involves studying and learning multiple topics at once. Your brain will stay more active as you move from one topic to the next, especially if the topics are very different.

You can try to make links between the topics to give yourself a better understanding of them as a whole. However, don’t try to switch between the topics too often – you should make sure you’ve made decent progress on one topic before moving on to the next.

You might initially find yourself getting confused. You’ll soon find that the swapping between topics helps you retain more information in the long run, though, as your brain will be more active in making connections and picking up information for each new section.

  1. Concrete examples

The human brain finds it easier to understand ideas if they are concrete rather than abstract. This means that you should try to find a link between the concepts that you are taught with a literal example. Your brain will find it easier to understand and recall the information if you have something physical to reference it to.

This method is more effective if you use an example that doesn’t have an obvious relationship with the topic but still clearly represents the topic. For example, pizza slices are often used to represent percentages and fractions in maths. You’ll need to make sure that the examples are correct representations of the topic and aren’t too complicated so that you don’t confuse yourself later on.

  1. Dual coding

This theory tests the idea that we learn best when we are exposed to two different stimuli. An effective combination of two stimuli includes visual and verbal learning. You take in information at a different rate when you are looking at an image, listening to or reading it.

Verbal recollection is sequential. You are fed a bit of information at a time before you understand the whole situation. However, you take in more information at once when you are looking at an image or video, but you may not fully understand what you are seeing.

For example, someone might tell you a story about someone who is gardening. They would first tell you who was involved, where they were and what they were planting. If you were to look at a picture of someone gardening, however, you would immediately take in the situation in a few seconds. However, you might not get additional information from the picture, such as what they were planting or the exact town they were in.

It’s highly effective to combine both visual and verbal stimuli. This could be in the form of a diagram with labels or listening to a spoken explanation whilst you watch an animation.

How can I make the most out of the learning strategies?

There are so many learning techniques to try, which is why you should switch to a new one if you find a certain method isn’t working for you. You can also combine the techniques to enhance your learning experience. Interleaving and spaced practice are two methods that work better when they are used with other learning strategies because they focus on the strategy of your learning, rather than the technique for each session.


The learning process of students is vital to gaining a comprehensive understanding of a subject. Research suggests that improving learning strategies, such as replacing notes revision with practices such as elaborative interrogation, will encourage students to actively retain more information.

Practising valuable study skills in a learning environment, whether it be in class or online, can help you to make sense of the class materials and interpret them into your own words. You can spend your online study session writing notes and then summarise the information or turn it into a diagram to help you absorb the important facts.

Practice tests are also one of the best learning techniques as you can identify the areas that need more work whilst also getting an idea of the best way to answer questions for high grades. A practice test, as well as other learning materials and sources such as cue cards and study groups, can help you to gain a new perspective on a topic.

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