In-Text Citations

In-Text Citations

The Effects of Study Techniques on Test Performance

College students have always searched for effective strategies to improve recall and performance on tests, and popular text processing strategies include highlighting, note-taking, and rereading. Much research has been done comparing the effects of different processing strategies on recall of information.

Jonassen, 1984, investigated the effect of reading, underlining, and note-taking on the immediate and delayed recall of material. It was expected that participants who used processes with greater involvement would perform better on recall. Participants were randomly assigned to one of the five study conditions. After studying the material with the assigned technique, participants took immediate recall and recognition tests and then were retested one week later on the material. No significant difference in immediate recall of the material was found among the different text processing groups. Contrary to the hypothesis, the results indicate that techniques thought to require greater involvement do not lead to enhanced recall.

These findings contrast with those of Annis & Davis (1978) who investigated the effect of various study techniques and preference for study techniques. College students studied an article under preferred or nonpreferred study conditions and one week later took an examination on the article. The authors found that overall note takers scored better than underliners who scored better than readers. An important factor in this study, is that note takers spent more time with the material which might explain why they performed better. An unexpected result of the study by Annis and Davis was that participants using a nonpreferred technique scored significantly higher than participants using a preferred technique. The authors speculated that this might be due to the increased concentration and attention to the learning material required for the use of an unfamiliar technique.

In the present study, the effects of note taking and reading on learning will be investigated. To control for the problem of unequal amounts of time spent on the material that Annis and Davis found, in this study the amount of time spent studying will be the same for both groups. It is expected that participants who take notes will perform better on a multiple choice test than the participants in the reading only group.



There were 89 college students from a small southwestern university who participated as part of a psychology laboratory exercise. There were 13 males and 30 females in the read only group with a mean age of 26.53 (and a standard deviation of 8.32) and there were 2 males and 44 females in the note-taking group with M = 29.56 (SD = 11.22).


A five page passage about Thiamin (Wentzler, 1980) was used for the material to be studied. A multiple choice test consisting of ten questions developed by the experimenter was used for the recall test. A math test of 20 simple arithmetic problems developed by the experimenter was used for a distraction task.


Participants were randomly assigned to the read-only group or the note-taking group. Participants in the same condition were tested in small groups. Participants were given 15 min to read the passage and study it using the assigned method. Participants were told that they would be tested on the passage. After studying the passage, the participants had 1 min to complete a set of basic math problems as a distraction task. After the distraction task, participants either reviewed their notes or re-read the passage for three minutes. At the end of this review period, participants took a 10 item multiple choice test. The number correct was recorded for each individual.


A t-test for independent groups using a significance level of .05 was completed. The read only group (M = 7.86, SD = 1.77) had significantly more correct answers on the quiz than the note taking group (M = 6.85, SD = 1.97), t(85) = 2.55, p = .012.


The hypothesis that participants who take notes will recall text better than participants in the reading only group was not supported. This contradicts the findings of Jonassen (1974) and Stordahl and Christensen (1956) who found no difference among the various study techniques. In addition the present results contradict studies in which note-taking was found to be better than reading only (Kulhavy and Dyer, 1975; Annis and Davis, 1978).

A possible reason why the note-taking group did not do better is because the total amount of time allowed for study was kept constant in the groups. Lundgren (1988) and Kulhavy and Dyer (1975) found that the note taking groups spent more time with the learning material. It may be this increased time that leads to better performance not the act of taking notes. Because taking notes takes more time than just reading a passage, in the present study the note-taking group may not have had as much time to process the material, thus resulting in poorer performance.

In the present study procedural weaknesses may have been influential in the outcome. It may have been better to have a longer time period in between the initial studying of the passage and the review. In these circumstances, reviewing notes may be a better tool than trying to scan a passage.



Annis, L., & Davis, J. K. (1978). Study techniques and cognitive styles: Their effect on recall and recognition. Journal of Educational Research, 71, 175:178.

Kulhavy, Robert. W., & Dyer, James. W. (1975). The effects of notetaking and test expectancy on the learning of text material. Journal of educational research, 68, 363-365.

Jonassen, D. H.(1984). Effects of Generative Text Processing Strategies on Recall and Retention. Human Learning Journal of Practical Research and Applications, 3, 241-256.

Stordahl, K. E., and Christensen, C. M. (1956). The effect of study techniques on comprehension and retention. Journal of Educational Research, 49, 561-570.

Wentzler, R. (1980). The Vitamin Book. New York: Gramercy Publishing Company.

1999-2000 All rights reserved.  Lee A. Becker & Kelli J. Klebe