How to study by reading (what’s wrong with rereading and how to fix it)

I used to think that rereading notes was a good way to study.

Hunched over a desk for an hour or more, I read page after page of notes. It was hard to keep my eyes open.

And I’m not sure if it helped much either…

Maybe you’ve felt the same way.

Rereading isn’t all it’s cut out to be

Recently, one of my professors introduced me to this 2013 study by Dunlosky et al. (it combined the results of tons of individual experiments), which ranked rereading with low utility.

Dunlosky study categories of utility

And it makes sense: when you reread, you’re looking over stuff you already kind of know. You don’t really have to think or write. Since it’s not a big challenge, you don’t learn much.

In spite of all this, we still use rereading–it’s easy.

So we’re stuck: we don’t want to do more work, but the work we’re doing is dull and unhelpful.

You might try a new strategy, like practice testing. But, since that method takes much more effort, you may just burnout instead (and that’s the last thing you want).

You need a strategy to bridge the gap: don’t read your notes silently, read them out loud to yourself (like a teacher would lecture a class).

What’s so great about rereading out loud?

It’s interesting, maybe even fun.

Since you’re moving and talking (I’ll get to that in a minute), you’re more alert. And, unless you’re one of those people who sleeps standing, it’ll keep you from falling asleep too.

Besides that, rereading aloud allows you to think in a different way. Try to paraphrase and draw connections to your notes (instead of reading word for word).

My Experience

Last semester, I started reading my psychology notes like I was lecturing to a class (I know, I’m a dork). I wasn’t sure if it would work, but my lowest test score in the class was 96%.

Because rereading out loud wasn’t my only strategy, other things could have influenced my scores. But I think that my “lectures” had a big impact.

Breakdown of time spent studying

How to study by reading out loud

  1. Keep your notes in hand. If you didn’t take notes (now’s as good a time as any to start), you can use slides from class, a study guide, or just your textbook (focus on headers, bold words, main ideas).
  2. Say what comes to mind. Check if it’s right. Use your notes as an outline, rather than reading them word for word. The less you look at them the more effective this strategy will be.
  3. Walk around.Keep your blood flowing. You won’t get tired as easily so you’ll be able to study longer.

More Tips

  • Make connections. If you think of something related to your notes, say it out loud.
  • Use a flashcard. Cover sections of your notes and try to explain them without looking.
  • Take breaks. Once your legs start to get tired (every 30 minutes maybe), sit down and relax for a couple minutes.
  • Use spaced repetition. Study more often, in shorter time blocks.

Action for today

Just take 5 minutes to try rereading out loud. Use your most recent notes, and get as far as you can.

That’s it. It’s so easy you’ve got to try it.

One thing to remember

As you progress towards more difficult study methods (but way more efficient ones), rereading out loud is a great stepping off point.

It’s way more engaging than normal rereading, and I think you’ll welcome the change.