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Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning - Strategies to Support Your Examination Success

"What ever you set your sights on doing or becoming, if you want to be a contender, it is mastering the ability to learn that will get you in the game and keep you there.”

If you want to learn more about effective study skills please read on by referring to the attachments (PDF)

Passing Exams Strategies

Make it Stick Strategies

The MFG and Sixth Form Teaching and Learning Book Club have been exploring current research into how to acquire effective study skills to further support student learning and confidence in preparing for linear examination success.

 Studies have discovered:

  • Some kinds of difficulties during learning help to make the learning stronger and better remembered
  • When learning is easy it is often superficial and soon forgotten
  • Not all intellectual abilities are innate. In fact when learning is “effortful”, it changes the brain, making new connections and increasing intellectual ability.
  • You learn better when you wrestle with new problems before being shown the solution, rather than the other way around
  • To achieve excellence in any sphere, you must strive to surpass your current level of ability.
  • Striving, by its nature, often results in setbacks, and setbacks are often what provide the essential information needed to adjust strategies to achieve mastery.

According to Paul C Brown et al in ‘Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning’, specific study skills are proven to be particularly helpful for students:


Self-quizzing is about retrieving knowledge and skills from memory and is far more effective than simply re-reading. When you read a text or study notes, pause periodically to ask questions – without looking in the text – such as:

• What are the key ideas?
• What terms or ideas are new to me? How would I define them?
• How do the ideas in this text relate to what I already know?

You should set aside time every week to quiz yourself on the current week’s work and the material covered in prior weeks. Once you have self-quizzed, check your answers and make sure you have an accurate understanding of what you know and what you don’t know. Know that making mistakes will not set you back, so long as you check answers later and correct any errors.

You should space out retrieval practice. This means studying information more than once and leaving increasingly large gaps between practice sessions. Initially, new material should be revisited within a day or so then not again for several days or a week. When you are feeling more confident about certain material, quiz yourself on it again.

Interleave the study of two or more topics so that alternating between them requires you to continually refresh your memories of each topic.

Testing helps calibrate our judgements of what we have learned and where we need to focus to bring up our mastery. In virtually all areas of life you build better mastery when you use testing as a tool to identify and bring up your areas of weakness. You need to think of testing as practicing retrieval of learning from memory –testing is a tool for learning.

  • Elaboration
    Elaboration is the process of finding additional layers of meaning in new material. It involves relating new material to what you already know, explaining it to somebody else, or explaining how it relates to the wider world. An effective form of elaboration is to use a metaphor or image for the new material.
  • Generation
    Generation is when you attempt to answer a question or solve a problem before being shown the answer or the solution. The act of filling in a missing word (the cloze test) results in better learning and a stronger memory of the text than simply reading the text. Before reading new class material, identify/explain the key ideas you expect to find and how you expect these ideas will relate to your prior knowledge.
  • Reflection
    Reflection involves taking a moment to review what has been learned. Ask questions such as:
    • What went well? What could have gone better?
    • What other knowledge or experience does it remind me of?
    • What might I need to learn in order to achieve better mastery? 
    • What strategies could I use next time to get better results?
  • Calibration
    Calibration is achieved when you adjust your judgment to reflect reality – in other words, you become certain that your sense of what you know and can do is accurate. Often when we revise information, we look at a question and convince ourselves that we know the answer, then move on to the next question without making an effort to actually answer the previous one.

If you do not write down an answer, you may create the illusion of knowing when in fact you would have difficulty giving a response. You need to remove the illusion of knowing and actually answer all the questions even if you think you know the answer and that it is too easy.
Use quizzes and tests to see whether you know as much as you think you do. Check your answers in tests, and focus your studying effort on the areas where you are not up to scratch.

Related articles: GCSE Student 'Make it Stick' with Epic Mind Map