By Maha Ansari
Throughout his career as a cognitive psychologist, Professor Guy Lacroix has acquired a wealth of knowledge about the science behind learning. He has also encountered dozens of students plagued by a common question: “How do I achieve academic success?”
After years of offering the same solutions during his office hours, Lacroix decided to package his advice into a single lecture, dubbed “tips to be a successful university student.”
This lecture has become a hit among his students.
Lacroix says the tips he offers are rooted in research on cognitive psychology. He hopes they will steer students away from destructive study habits.
“A lot of the research on learning is counterintuitive,” says Lacroix. “People think, ‘Oh, this is good for learning, this is good for memory,’ when it actually isn’t.”
As an example, Lacroix points to the common practice of flipping through a professor’s PowerPoint slides to prepare for an exam.
“That’s a disastrous way of trying to develop the kind of memory that you need to write an exam,” he says.
Instead, Lacroix recommends a revision process that engages the semantic memory. Students should strive to understand class material by relating it to what they already know.
According to Lacroix, successful studying is an active process – one that extends beyond attending classes and reading textbooks. He recommends a step-by-step method to prepare for an exam.
First, students should take a detailed set of notes that combine material from lectures, their textbooks and class PowerPoint slides.
“There’s a lot of research that shows that when somebody produces what they need to remember, they remember a lot better than when they passively receive somebody else’s information,” says Lacroix.
“That’s why the first step is crucial.”
Next, students should systematically review their study material and ask themselves whether they understand each concept.
“If you try to memorize what you don’t understand, that knowledge will be a lot more fragile,” Lacroix explains.
If a concept is unclear, it’s vital to seek clarification from resources such as the internet, peers and professors.
In the final stage of preparation, Lacroix recommends that students find a quiet place to memorize their study notes. This stage usually involves reproducing the material, either verbally or in writing.
Memorization is an important aspect of developing an expertise in a subject, explains Lacroix.
“All experts have memorized tons of information about their areas of expertise and when you take a class, that’s what you’re trying to do,” he says. “You’re building an expertise base.”
Many of Lacroix’s students have seen their grades soar after watching his tips lecture. However, he maintains that the success of his pupils lies not in the tips themselves, but in the choice to apply them.
“What I do is just tell them what the game is,” says Lacroix. “It’s up to students to decide if they want to play it or not.”