Want to study effectively at home? Test yourself!

Effectief thuis studeren studietip

There are many lists on the internet with tips to help you with distance education. These often contain the following: follow a set schedule (as if you were going to class), use a fixed place for studying, study in short bursts instead of long periods, take regular breaks, and ask for help if you need it. Sounds useful, but which approach is most effective?

On Monday morning at 9 o’clock, you’re at your cleaned up desk with the door to your room closed. You’ve set an alarm for 45 minutes and have arranged a meeting via houseparty with fellow students at 11. But how to proceed form here? The big book you need to study during the next 8 weeks lies in front of you, what now? Just start reading? Happily, there is over 100 years of research on this subject and by now we know more than a little about effective study methods.

Here are five common study methods:

  • Test yourself – Very effective in many different contexts
  • Spread out learning – Very effective in many different contexts
  • Rereading – After the first time, time can be better spent elsewhere
  • Marking – Not very useful, but can be a helpful first step
  • Make summaries – Can be useful if you are good at summarising

Which method should you use?

Imagine having to study two chapters this week. How would you do this? Research has shown that students often reread the text after having read it the first time to check if they understood everything (rereading technique; Kornell & Bjork, 2007). Sometimes, as supplementary steps, a marker is used to highlight important concepts, or a summary is made. Since these approaches are used relatively often, you would think that these are effective methods, right? If they were ineffective, students would have stopped using them long ago. Unfortunately, this is not how it works. A meta study that compared the most used (and somewhat less used) study methods showed that the three methods mentioned above are among the least effective.

So what about spread out learning and testing yourself? Spread out learning means that you don’t try and cram all of the subject matter in a short time, but that it is better to study it in small chunks spread out over several days/weeks. The method with the most advantages is: testing yourself.

Why is testing yourself the best method?

Firstly, you will learn (if you are honest) which parts of the subject matter you already understand and which you do not. This is a so-called metacognitive advantage of testing yourself. Other than this metacognitive advantage, there is a more direct advantage: retrieving knowledge from your long-term memory. It seems that by simply recalling information, this information is better retained. This is already predicted in memory models in the eighties (see for example Raaijmakers & Shiffrin, 1981). You’re not only testing yourself, you’re also learning!

So be sure to use this method when studying at home. Make sure to test yourself every day on the subject matter of that week. Or have a fellow student test you (online)! Keep track of what you already know, and what not. Review this again, so maybe you will remember it tomorrow.


Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14, 4-58.
Kornell, N., & Bjork, R. A. (2007). The promise and perils of self-regulated study. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 14, 219-224.
Raaijmakers, J. G. W., & Shiffrin, R. M. (1981). Search of associative memory. Psychological Review, 88, 93–134.

Want to learn more?

Would you like to know more about studying effectively? Have a look at our free webinars or our courses such as: Workshop Smart Study Skills.