Students' ability to retrieve acquired knowledge long-term is critical for every discipline. The research on learning shows undergraduate students use ineffective learning strategies, misjudging passive vs active ways of learning, and prioritizing grade over long-term learning, while they could achieve both by switching to effective learning strategies. Moreover, first generation graduates may be at a disadvantage as they have less opportunity to learn from family member experience. Sixty percent of students who attend medical, dental or graduate school continue to use ineffective strategies, e.g., re-reading.

Our goal was to discuss learning strategies with our incoming graduate students to encourage them to switch to effective ones. We held four consecutive weekly sessions before courses started to discuss the book by Dr. Saundra McGuire entitled, “Teach yourself how to learn”. Incoming graduate students read a few chapters for each session and discussed what they had read with facilitators and senior students, who shared their own experience about the program and provided advice. The final session revisited the various concepts with short podcasts highlighting the different points. A majority of our students were willing to modify their study habits and will be surveyed regularly to assess whether they continue to use effective learning strategies. More importantly, students who switched to effective learning strategies understood concepts better and scored higher on exams, including comprehensive exams. Our study suggests that regularly discussing effective learning strategies with graduate students is easy to implement, and may be beneficial to their understanding of material, performance and long-term retrieval.

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