Teach Them to Study (because they don't know how)

text: Teach Them to Study (they don't know how)

Learning chemistry is difficult. It's a vast subject so loaded with potential misconceptions forcing learners to frequently check and recheck their understanding of the material engaging in metacognition.1 Metacognition, or thinking about one's thinking, is a higher-order skill used to evaluate acquired knowledge,2 and weaknesses in metacognitive abilities are especially exposed during test preparation since studying requires a high level of awareness of one's learning. Quite frankly, most students do not know how to study.

The majority of students study by simply reading over their notes; a passive and ineffective strategy with little to no metacognition. Self-quizzing, on the other hand, is a highly active method of studying, that requires constant evaluation of understanding.3

What is Self-Quizzing

Self-quizzing, also known as recall or retrieval, is a self-regulated study strategy where students solve sample questions to test their knowledge after reading their notes or textbook. Self-quizzing supports learning and enhances long-term knowledge retention by a phenomenon called the testing effect; students remember tested material for more extended periods than if they have repeatedly read or studied.4

Unfortunately, most students don't practice self-quizzing and may not even know how to do it. A 2009 study published in the Journal, Memory3, examined undergraduate students' study strategies and found that most (84%) reread their notes and textbooks, and very few (11%) practice retrieval. Additionally, the study found that most students falsely believe that repeated reading rather than self-testing will lead to long term memory of content. The study's authors challenged instructors to explain and encourage self-quizzing, informing students of its benefit on long-term retention of content.

How to promote self-quizzing in your classroom

Explain Self-quizzing and its benefits

Self-quizzing requires a higher cognitive load than repeated reading, and as a result, students may resist it. Students are more likely to buy into self-quizzing if they understand its benefits. So, explaining the testing effect and how practicing recall may improve their success on tests should encourage its use.


screenshot of open chemistry textbook w/ a white square over with the words "SCRAP PAPER"

Image 1: Self-quizzing using a chemistry textbook.

Suggest or provide self-quizzing resources

Most textbooks embed worked out problems so students can check their understanding of a section after reading; however, students don't seem to know how to use these resources. I teach my students to cover the solution with scrap paper and try solving the problem after reading the preceding section of the textbook (image 1). After solving, they can check their answer and reread the section if they got it wrong. For further support, I provide extra problem sets with worked-out solutions. Including the answers is a crucial part of the exercise because students need to check their thinking against a correct answer during self-quizzing.

Practice and model self-quizzing regularly during class

I always try to spend a class period practicing self-quizzing as we approach an upcoming test. It may seem like a waste of a class period, but taking time to practice self-quizzing is a great way to reteach concepts and uncover misconceptions. Besides, students become more accustomed to self-quizzing, and you can spend less time practicing in future class periods.


screenshot of analytics of the author's student work on EdPuzzle.com

Image 2: Valuable analytics with EdPuzzle

Embed self-quizzing questions into learning material

Finally, embed quiz questions into video tutorials used in flipped classrooms and virtual learning. EdPuzzle makes it easy to insert quiz questions directly into a YouTube video or an uploaded video so that students can self-quiz as they learn new content. Additionally, EdPuzzle provides useful analytics so teachers can see how students performed on each quiz question so that you can reteach missed concepts during class (image 2).



  1. Zimmerman, B. J., & Schunk, D. H., Reflections on theories of self-regulated learning and academic achievement. Self-Regulated Learning and Academic Achievement: Theoretical Perspectives, 2, 2001. 289-307.
  2. Martinez, M. E., What is Metacognition?, Phi Delta Kappan, 87(9), 2006, 696-699.
  3. Karpicke, J. D., Butler, A. C., & Roediger III, H. L., Metacognitive strategies in student learning: do students practise retrieval when they study on their own?, Memory, 17(4), 2009, 471-479.
  4. Roediger III, H. L., & Karpicke, J. D., The power of testing memory: Basic research and implications for educational practice. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1(3), 2006, 181-210.