In the Spring 2016 issue of The Teaching Economist, William McEachern describe a familiar office hours scenario following the first term test of introductory economics:
They tell us they “studied hard.” They came to class, took notes, read the textbook, and highlighted key passages. They even reread class notes and the text until the material became thoroughly familiar. “How could all this time and effort result in a C? It’s so unfair!”
McEachern goes on to explain that poor results are not unfair, they are usually the result of students studying inefficiently and ineffectively. He quickly summarizes much of the literature from cognitive psychology showing the passive re-reading and highlighting are the least effective forms of studying, and that long-term memory depends on active recall through quizzes, flash cards, and problem-solving.
I turned this fantastic article into a video, where I talk students through McEachern’s findings, and create a 7 minute lesson on how to effectively study economics and avoid the typical low grade on first and subsequent tests. You can assign this for students to watch/listen. The video ends with an upbeat true story about a student who came to me after doing poorly on the 1st test, but who then changed his study habits along the lines McEachern and I recommend. He ended up with an A+ and credited his improvement entirely to the changed way of studying.