Building Strong Study Skills Series: Self-Explanation
Note: This series details how to study smarter, not harder, to help students succeed in their academics. All information in this series draws upon principles from psychological research on learning and memory.
How often do you teach material to yourself as if you are the teacher? Have you ever explained a concept to yourself to check your understanding? Have you ever presented a PowerPoint to yourself?
These techniques are considered self-explanation study skills. To define the term, self-explanation is when you explain course material to yourself.
Study a topic or several topics in your course and then explain those topics to yourself. You may choose to explain the techniques verbally or through writing.
Pull up your teacher’s slides and present them to yourself as if you are the teacher. Or make an outline of all the headings and subheadings in a certain chapter in your textbook and use them as a guide to explain the textbook in your own words. Or explain a tricky concept to yourself after reading about it.
Self-explanation is not helpful if your explanations are coming straight from texts. Your explanation must come from your own brain and in your own words to be effective!
Why It Works
Self-explanation is a powerful and effective tool for several reasons.
This study skill helps students identify connections between ideas they have learned so far in their course. Drawing these connections is crucial to gaining a deeper understanding of the material.
Being able to explain a topic in your own words demonstrates a certain level of mastery. If you are able to explain a subject simply, clearly, and unscripted then you likely understand the material pretty well.
On the flipside, self-explanation is also a sure-fire way to identify gaps in knowledge or understanding. If you can’t explain a concept or if your explanation sounds “off,” then you will know instantly that you need to refer to your notes or textbook to improve your understanding.
Self-explanation is a powerful study technique that is easy to implement, but isn’t enough alone to ensure you are retaining material. It should be used in conjunction with interleaving and other helpful study techniques that will be detailed in coming installments of this series.
Keep up with our weekly Building Strong Study Skills series to learn the most effective study strategies and succeed in your academics. Schedule a session with one of our expert tutors today to receive all the information and guidance you need to gain a deeper understanding of your academics and perform better on your tests! Building effective study habits takes time, so the sooner you get help, the better prepared you will be by the time finals roll around.
Terry, W.S. (2018). Learning and Memory: Basic Principles, Processes, and Procedures, Fifth Edition. New York, Routledge, a Taylor and Francis Group. ISBN 978-1-13-864591-2.
Rhodes, M.G., Cleary, A.M. and DeLosh, E.L. (2020). A Guide to Effective Studying and Learning: Practical Strategies from the Science of Learning. New York, Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-021447-0 (pbk).
Drew is Hodis Learning & Music’s Founder and President. He has been tutoring and teaching music for more than 10 years. Drew earned his B.A. in Psychology from the University of Southern California and is pursuing a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at Adelphi University.