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Studying vs. Learning: What’s The Difference?

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Every student—yes, even you gifted savants out there—must study. Whether you figure it out now, or you figure it out when you get your first test back in college, EVERYBODY HAS TO STUDY IF THEY WANT TO SUCCEED. But are you just studying or are you learning too? Is there a difference?

Surface Learning

Studying is learning facts for a specific purpose, such as to answer questions on an exam. Chances are you’ve studied by doing some of the following:

  • Reading your notes
  • Highlighting text
  • Memorizing flashcards

These study methods will help you memorize facts for quick, short-term recall during an exam. Depending on the exam and what kind of questions are asked, you will probably perform well enough. However, this type of studying is not the same as true, deep learning. Some refer to it as surface learning. When you surface learn you memorize the material enough to regurgitate it and then it vanishes from your brain.

High Level Thinking Skills

Learning requires a deeper level of thinking skills. It demands that you not only know the facts, but can apply them as well. Learning requires synthesizing the material and reproducing it in a way that is meaningful to other people. When you learn instead of study in order to perform well on an exam, you are likely to retain the information much longer.

FacultyFocus offers tips for what they call “deep learning”:

  • Make up your own practice questions.
  • Work to answer problems before looking up the answer.
  • Close your notes and recopy what you can remember.

Other methods for learning could include teaching someone else what you have learned, writing short essays or stories that include the material you are learning, and drawing visual diagrams. These are all methods that require interaction with the material. They will help you use higher level thinking skills and therefore instill the information in your brain for the long term.

Learning for the Future

When you learn you are developing your higher level thinking skills. These are the skill that will help you excel on an exam. They are also skills that will be useful the rest of your life. When you learn you won’t have to spend time re-memorizing facts you have forgotten and you can apply concepts from various subjects to the problem at hand.

Learning takes more work initially, but it pays off far into the future. The next time you need to prepare for an exam, don’t just study, learn!

Santa Clara SAT Prep

Mr. Test Prep gives his students the deep learning skills they need to perform well on a lifetime worth of tests. At his Santa Clara SAT Prep center, he helps his students overcome years worth of bad mental habits and poor confidence so they’re ready to take on the test and reach their maximum score potential. With a combination of one-on-one and group testing, Mr. Test Prep offers the best of both worlds: experience with the conditions of the test and focused, student-specific instruction.

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