26 Chapter 26: Study Tools for Active Learning

Student drawing a MindMap on finance
Photo Credit: Graeme Robinson-Clogg

Now that you have identified what you need to study and learn, you now need to make a plan for how to do it, and to put it into practice. The best kind of learning is active learning. When you learn actively, you apply a variety of strategies to your course material, including reading, writing, reflecting, solving problems, organizing material visually, self-testing, and working with others.

Active learning requires you to use study tools that process and recall information.  Following are study tools for active learning.

  • Create flash cards.
  • Create a visual organizer that summarizes key chapter concepts, such as a concept (mind) map.
  • Create a study check list.
  • Create practice questions or a practice test.
  • Create a study group or work with a study partner (cooperative learning).

Not only are these active learning study tools more engaging and fun, they also allow you to use your study time more effectively.  Contrast this with an activity like re-reading a textbook or notes multiple times, which is a more passive (and often boring) way to learn.  Though you may be seeing the material, you are not engaging in an activity that requires you to store the information in your memory, and to practice retrieving it.[1]

Creating a Study Check List

A good study check list is an engaging and effective way to assess the material that you need to study and a useful way to keep track of your study progress. Sometimes instructors will make study guides or check lists available to you as a way of helping you to prepare for an exam. Creating one on your own is simple. Here are five guidelines for creating and using an effective study checklist.

  • Identify all material that you are responsible for (brainstorm all the possible items that could possibly be on the test)
  • Identify any priority items (some item are more important than others, so it’s helpful to identify them that way on the list)
  • Identify any problem items (some item may have confused you or been difficult to understand when presented in class, so identifying them makes it easier to give them more attention)
  • Check off each item as you study it (every time you see that check you will be reminded that you have mastered the material – a psychological affirmation that boosts your confidence)
  • Review the checklist regularly (don’t create the list just to say you did it – use it often to help learn the material)

Cooperative Learning

Studying with others gives you the benefit of many minds at work to accomplish a shared task. Anytime you need to get an important job done, you can benefit from the assistance of others. When done well, cooperative learning works, and it’s a powerful tool to boost the effectiveness of study time. This is not to negate the importance of the time you need to spend alone studying. Rather, it’s a way to diversify your approach to studying through the power of active learning and bring new energy to your routine. Some students prefer the intimacy of a study partner. This permits a more interpersonal one on one study opportunity. It’s an effective and simple way to get the benefits of cooperative learning. You can also accomplish this by working with a tutor in the Center for Student Success (CSS). At other times you may desire to seek the increased input of more minds with a study group. If you are part of a Learning Community created by CSS, you may be able to create a study group with other students there. Below are six points to consider in creating an effective study group.

  • Look for dedicated/serious students (not that you can’t have fun when you are studying, but a study group is probably not the best place for those who don’t take learning seriously)
  • Look for people that you are comfortable working with (you will need to be able to spend time working together, so it’s important to be comfortable with those in the group)
  • Look for people who share similar goals (people who want an A will study differently than someone who is just looking to pass)
  • Look for between 4 and 6 people for the group (these are not magic numbers, but too few or too many can create issues with continuity)
  • Set an agenda for every meeting (you may not want to be too formal or inflexible, but an agenda can help keep things on track – remember, it’s a study group, not a party)
  • Seek clarification from the instructor on what to study (any instructor would be thrilled to know that you created a study group and they might even offer some tips – just ask) [2]

Try it!

Consider the material you are learning in one of your courses this week.  Create one of the above mentioned active learning study tools that you can use to study.

Licenses and Attributions:

Content previously published in University 101: Study, Strategize and Succeed by Kwantlen Polytechnic University, licensed as CC BY-SA.

Adaptations: Added study check list and cooperative learning

 


  1. Michael, J. (2006). Where’s the evidence that active learning works? Advances in Physiology Education, 30(4), 159–167. https://doi.org/10.1152/advan.00053.2006
  2. Adapted from Ellis, Dave, (2006), Becoming a Master Student, Cengage Learning

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Foundations For Success by David Capriola is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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