Knowing a number of effective strategies for reading and note-taking, practicing and memorizing, is vital, but it's not the whole story. There is also a category of strategies we might term 'support' strategies. These include strategies aimed at setting goals, managing time and effort, and monitoring your performance and progress. In study, these come under the concept of self-regulation, which is related to the more general concept of metamemory.

Self-regulation is crucial to successful study.

Self-regulation isn't simply about 'self-control', although that's one aspect of it. Self-regulation skills include manipulating your environment, your emotions and attitudes, and your social interactions.

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Assessing strategy

When you evaluate any specific study strategy the critical questions are:

  • Does it help you understand the information?
  • Does it help you select the important information?

To choose a strategy, you must assess the situation. In this case, this may mean an evaluation of a written text. Let's look at how you might evaluate text.

We can classify text at one of three different levels, according to its structure and density1:

  1. simple (straightforward text with clear connections)
  2. complex (characterized by many changes of topic and more than one level of information)
  3. difficult (dense text with many topic changes, often unclear, inconsistent and/or abstract)

These different types of text require progressively more complex strategies.

Textual strategies can be classified into six broad processes1:

Broad processes

Specific strategies

Re-stating paraphrasing; visualizing; transformational elaboration
Selecting underlining, highlighting, boxes, lists
Abstracting themes headings, summaries
Perceiving structure outlines, graphic organizers
Making sense of information elaborative interrogation, analogies, maps, multimedia summaries, re-structuring, charts & tables, integrating sections of text.
Monitoring comprehension constructing and testing theories about the meaning of the text, seeking additional information

Matching these processes against our classes of text (noting that processes listed beside text levels indicate additional processes required - including processes used at lower levels of difficulty), we get1:

Simple text re-statement
Complex text selecting
abstracting themes
perceiving structure
making sense of information
Difficult text monitoring comprehension




  1. Jones, B.F. 1986. Text learning strategy instruction: guidelines from theory and practice. In C.E. Weinstein, E.T. Goetz & P.A. Alexander Learning and study strategies. New York: Academic Press.
  2. 1. Taken from The Memory Key.

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Ability to delay gratification predicts success only in some contexts

There's been a lot of talk in education about the message from research that self-control in pre-schoolers predicts their later success in the classroom and in life. While I do think that this is an important message that should be taken on board by educators and parents, it's worth ameliorating it somewhat with the odd caveat - as offered in this latest study.

Simon Makin at Scientific American:

Celeste Kidd … suspected there might be a common misconception about the classic marshmallow study—namely, that waiting is always the right choice. While volunteering years ago at a homeless shelter for families in Santa Ana, Calif., she realized that all the kids around her would eat their marshmallows straight away, living as they did in an environment where anything they had could be taken away at any time. “Delaying gratification is only the rational choice if the child believes a second marshmallow is likely to be delivered,” Kidd says.

Although previous marshmallow-type studies have acknowledged that external factors might influence kids’ ability to wait for the bigger reward, none had directly tested for those factors’ effects.

Scientific American article

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Improving academic performance with a simple psychological intervention

Stereotype threat is a factor not only for some ethnic groups, but for women in certain areas (e.g., math, engineering), and also for older adults. Interventions that help reduce stereotype threat are also potentially helpful for those who suffer from test anxiety, or math anxiety.

Dave Nussbaum talks in the Scientific American about research he’s been involved in, showing how a small intervention aimed at reducing stereotype threat had significant long-lasting benefits for Latino American middle school students.

... In both schools, the intervention improved core course grades (Science, Social Studies, English, and Math) among Latino American students by the end of the school year by an average of roughly 0.3 points (on a 4.33 scale), reducing the achievement gap by 20-30% (the intervention had no effect on the White students’ grades). The intervention also sharply reduced the downward performance trajectory. Moreover, students in one school were followed for two years after the intervention had been completed and its effect on their grades persisted, even as some students made the difficult transition from middle school to high school. …

 Read the article

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Choosing when to think fast & when to think slow

I recently read an interesting article in the Smithsonian about procrastination and why it’s good for you. Frank Partnoy, author of a new book on the subject, pointed out that procrastination only began to be regarded as a bad thing by the Puritans — earlier (among the Greeks and Romans, for example), it was regarded more as a sign of wisdom.

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Intelligence isn’t as important as you think

Our society gives a lot of weight to intelligence. Academics may have been arguing for a hundred years over what, exactly, intelligence is, but ‘everyone knows’ what it means to be smart, and who is smart and who is not — right?

Of course, it’s not that simple, and the ins and outs of academic research have much to teach us about the nature of intelligence and its importance, even if they still haven’t got it all totally sorted yet. Today I want to talk about one particular aspect: how important intelligence is in academic success.


Chamorro-Premuzic, T., & Furnham, A. (2003). Personality traits and academic examination performance. European Journal of Personality, 17(3), 237-250. doi:10.1002/per.473

Duckworth, A. L., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2005). Self-discipline outdoes IQ in predicting academic performance of adolescents. Psychological science, 16(12), 939-44. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2005.01641.x

Furnham, A., & Chamorro-premuzic, T. (2005). Personality and Intelligence : Gender , the Big Five , Self-Estimated and Psychometric Intelligence. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 13(1), 11-24.

Furnham, A., Rinaldelli-Tabaton, E. & Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2011). Personality and Intelligence Predict Arts and Science School Results in 16 Year Olds. Psychologia, 54 (1), 39-51.

von Stumm, S., Hell B., & Chamorro-Premuzic T. (2011). The Hungry Mind. Perspectives on Psychological Science. 6(6), 574 - 588.

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How working memory works: What you need to know

A New Yorker cartoon has a man telling his glum wife, “Of course I care about how you imagined I thought you perceived I wanted you to feel.” There are a number of reasons you might find that funny, but the point here is that it is very difficult to follow all the layers. This is a sentence in which mental attributions are made to the 6th level, and this is just about impossible for us to follow without writing it down and/or breaking it down into chunks.


Clapp, W. C., Rubens, M. T., Sabharwal, J., & Gazzaley, A. (2011). Deficit in switching between functional brain networks underlies the impact of multitasking on working memory in older adults. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. doi:10.1073/pnas.1015297108

Ecker, U. K. H., Lewandowsky, S., Oberauer, Klaus, & Chee, A. E. H. (2010). The Components of Working Memory Updating : An Experimental Decomposition and Individual Differences. Cognition, 36(1), 170 -189. doi: 10.1037/a0017891.

Fukuda, K., & Vogel, E. K. (2011). Individual Differences in Recovery Time From Attentional Capture. Psychological Science, 22(3), 361 -368. doi:10.1177/0956797611398493

Jonides, J., Lewis, R. L., Nee, D. E., Lustig, C. a, Berman, M. G., & Moore, K. S. (2008). The mind and brain of short-term memory. Annual review of psychology, 59, 193-224. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.59.103006.093615.

Kinderman, P., Dunbar, R.I.M. & Bentall, R.P. (1998).Theory-of-mind deficits and causal attributions. British Journal of Psychology 89: 191-204.

Lange, E. B., & Verhaeghen, P. (in press). No age differences in complex memory search: Older adults search as efficiently as younger adults. Psychology and Aging.

Oberauer, K, Sus, H., Schulze, R., Wilhelm, O., & Wittmann, W. (2000). Working memory capacity — facets of a cognitive ability construct. Personality and Individual Differences, 29(6), 1017-1045. doi: 10.1016/S0191-8869(99)00251-2.

Oberauer, K. (2005). Control of the Contents of Working Memory--A Comparison of Two Paradigms and Two Age Groups. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 31(4), 714-728. doi:10.1037/0278-7393.31.4.714

Oberauer, Klaus. (2006). Is the Focus of Attention in Working Memory Expanded Through Practice ? Cognition, 32(2), 197-214. doi: 10.1037/0278-7393.32.2.197.

Oberauer, Klaus. (2009). Design for a Working Memory. Psychology of Learning and Motivation, 51, 45-100.

Verhaeghen, P., Cerella, J. & Basak, C. (2004) A Working Memory Workout : How to Expand the Focus of Serial Attention From One to Four Items in 10 Hours or Less. Cognition, 30 (6), 1322-1337.

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