Memory Hacks for Study Success
“Repetition is the mother of learning.” This Latin proverb holds some great truth when it comes to studying and passing exams.
From a brain perspective, repetition transfers skills and knowledge from your conscious to subconscious brain. One practical example is learning to drive. When you start, you have to think about every little step: the clutch, first gear, hand brake, mirrors, accelerator and so on… After learning and practicing for a period of time, these skills become somewhat automatic. You no longer have to consciously think about what you are doing to move the car forward, you just do it subconsciously. At this subconscious level, your brain is still doing the steps and the thinking. You are just not aware of it.
Practice and repetition alone are not enough, however. It is the quality of the practice that is important. Maybe you have heard the phrase, ‘practice makes perfect.’ If you repeatedly practice something incorrectly, the bad habit, skill or knowledge will be ingrained as repetition strengthens the connections in the brain. A better way to view practice is, ‘practice makes permanent.’ The quality of the practice is paramount.
There is also a difference between rote learning and deliberate repetition. Rote learning is simply repeating the task over and over, while deliberate repetition is giving conscious attention to the information and skill through rehearsal and practice, with the intention of improving your performance. Just copying your notes from one page to another does not guarantee you are learning the information as this process can be mundane and boring for the brain. However, intentionally reading through your notes and summarising the key points engages your brain at a more conscious level, causing deeper learning and better memory recall.
Here are some ways you might use deliberate repetition and active practice to increase understanding, memory and skill levels:
- Spaced Repetition: The interval in which you repeat learning is as important as the repetition itself, especially if you wish to commit the information to memory. The night before a test or exam is too late for deep learning to occur. Over time, information is forgotten without repetition. Brain researchers suggest going over information within 24 hours (1 day) of learning it to keep recall at up to 90%. The recommended spacing of the repetition then is 1 week, 1 month and every 6 months. This will, of course, depend on the complexity of what you are learning. Shorten the intervals as required.
- Summary Notebooks: Purchase a small notebook for each subject you are taking and each day (as your one-day review) summarise the key ideas onto one page. Restricting yourself to one page will force you to summarise, rather than copy the information mindlessly. The next day, read your summary of each subject.
- Flash Cards: This might sound old fashioned, but they work! Create flashcards for the information you are required to know. It could be the chemical formula on one side of the card and the colour of its precipitate on the other, or the English word on one side and the German word on the other. Now, test yourself or ask someone to test you. Create two piles of cards: one you know and the other that you don’t know. Practice and concentrate on learning the pile you don’t know. The next day, mix both piles together and repeat the process.
- Say it Out Loud: Talking about your information can be a powerful way to repeat information. Join a discussion group, find a study buddy or simply talk about what you are learning with the people you live with at home. Even if they don’t understand the information, talking about what you need to learn and remember can increase your recall up to 90%. In most cases, it doesn’t really matter who you tell! Tell your cat, dog or teddy bear!
- Read-Cover-Write-Check: Read or look at the information you wish to learn. Then cover it and see if you can reproduce (on a blank sheet of paper) the key ideas, diagram or mind map from memory. Check how much you can recall and focus on the parts you didn’t recall. Repeat as often as necessary.
- Teach It: If you are unsure of any parts of learning and want to clarify it, explain or teach the information to someone else. This is a great way to not only clarify it, but also to reinforce your own understanding.
- Google It: If the information you are trying to learn is confusing, and you do not understand it from your teacher, google another teacher on YouTube teaching the same lesson. You can also google, ‘study notes’ for the subjects you are learning. There are hundreds of sites on the Internet to help. Best of all, they are FREE, which means you have no excuse!
- Move: For some learners, sitting still is the worst way for great learning to occur. If this is you, get up and walk while reciting information, bounce a ball against a wall while recalling formulas or make a 3-D model explaining the concepts you are learning.
The key to all this repetition is to choose new, original and interesting ways to repeat your information in order to learn it. This may be by reading over your notes, summarising, telling someone about them and using the information in a meaningful way.
Study Smart & Pass!