Project Management

The Best (and Worst) Study Approaches

Mike Griffiths is an experienced project manager, author and consultant who works for PMI as a subject matter expert. Before joining PMI, Mike consulted and managed innovation and technology projects throughout Europe, North and South America for 30+ years. He was co-lead for the PMBOK Guideā€”Seventh Edition, lead for the Agile Practice Guide, and contributor to the PMI-ACP and PMP exam content outlines. Outside of PMI, Mike maintains the websites about leading teams and, which teaches project management for visual learners.

If you are studying for an upcoming certification by highlighting key text and re-reading important sections of textbooks, you are likely wasting your time. Despite being popular, these study techniques have been found to be the least effective approaches. So why not work smarter (not harder) and make better use of your study time? Spending a few minutes learning how we learn will make your study time more effective and rewarding.

The science of measuring the effectiveness of various learning techniques is large and complex. It has been researched for more than 125 years, and thousands of studies and journal reports are published every year in education and psychology journals. The biggest challenge for most people is extracting meaningful data and practical guidance from the constant fire-hose of complex academic papers. Fortunately, research from the Association for Psychological Science merged the predominant findings for 10 commonly used learning techniques and rated each from worst to best in terms of efficiency. The full report can be found here (and a Time magazine summary viewed here).

The worst (least effective) methods of study were found to be highlighting or underlining text. Multiple studies found these techniques to be a poor use of time when compared to other methods. That’s not to say highlighting or underlining does not help you learn things, …

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"What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out, which is the exact opposite."

- Bertrand Russell