Previous quests for the ideal study technique usually led me to "solve problems" (mathematics courses) or use spaced repetition (+ e.g. ANKI) for courses which require at least some level of memorization.

Now I'm taking courses which require reading (and understanding) research papers and I'm not sure about the best way to study. Should I print out quizzes for each paper? Or just read them again and again? Are there study techniques specifically for "paper-based" courses?

  • I'm not sure where you would find 'quizzes' for actual research papers. In a course, you might need to be able to read, understand, synthesize, and write a class paper about it all. In physics, one needs to read, understand to the necessary() level, and apply to one's own research as seems useful(). The outcomes are quite different, and the (*)'s for necessary and useful are key differences. – Jon Custer Jul 9 '19 at 15:47
  • Searching this stack for how to read papers might help you find some suggestions that work for you: typically an early course that is based on reading papers is intended just as much to get you exposed to reading academic writing as it is about the stated topic of the course. – Bryan Krause Jul 9 '19 at 16:00
  • @JonCuster I thought about printing a quiz for myself and then filling it out regularly to have a spaced-repetition effect – kratom_sandwich Jul 9 '19 at 16:13

My strong suggestion is that you write and keep notes on the papers you read. There is some evidence that hand writing the notes is superior to typing them for learning purposes. The goal is to engage the mind more fully in what you are trying to learn and note taking is a good way, especially if you don't have exercises to solve.

But even better is to summarize your notes a bit later. You can do this by entering your summaries onto electronic media for saving and later searching.

But one thing that is worth considering is to take your notes in a way that allows you to later extend them as thoughts occur. This is much like a "research notebook" in which you record yet unsolved problems and your thoughts on coming up with solutions. These problems might just be thoughts that occur to you as possible research areas but that you need to defer for the moment while you do higher priority things.

But the key is to fully engage the mind. For most people reading isn't enough. It works for short term retention but not well enough for long term learning. Writing is a better mechanism - especially writing by hand.

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It depends in each case what purpose you are reading the paper for. At the lowest level of engagement, it might be to acquaint yourself with the existence of a paper on such-and-such. At the highest level of engagement it might be to understand the paper so fully you could explain it without notes to an undergraduate class. There are all sorts of intermediate stages, and you may find yourself moving through them in respect of the same paper.

I have certainly experienced the realisation that that paper by Smith and Jones that I glanced at a while ago is now, I realise, one that I need to understand inside out and backwards. When that happens I fully endorse Buffy's advice that going through the paper taking detail notes in manuscript is the best way.

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