We have all tried different study strategies that may or may not have worked for us. But, many of the things we do have no real basis in brain science, and therefore aren't effective when it comes to memorization. Science has come a long way in terms of understanding the brain and how it learns, and through new neuroscience research, we now know what really helps humans learn material for the long haul.
Spaced Repetition: Studying for short amounts of time, while spacing it out over a number of days is best. This means-avoid cramming and all-nighters! If you have a test a week from now, it is best to study for 20 to 30 minutes a night every night before the test. There is a “spacing effect” with our memory, which describes how our brains work more effectively and are able to remember more when we space our learning over time. Spiraling back often to review previously learned material consistently over time help solidify the learning.
Listen to Music: Background music has been shown to enhance recall, visual imagery, attention and concentration. Listening to soft, classical music can help you attend to the task at hand, and can stimulate neural pathways. It is best to listen to music without words, so exercise caution in selecting the type of background music. (See number 5 below) There are many apps and YouTube channels dedicated to “study” music, so choose one of those to try!
Create Your Own Practice Tests: Create your own study guides, do practice problems out of the math book, create questions and find the answers. You can write out questions on the left side of the paper and write answers on the right, then fold the notebook paper to cover the answer side up in order to quiz yourself. Combine this step with number one and two above!
Handwrite Your Notes: Should you use your computer to take notes or take them by hand? This is a highly debated question! But, the research is becoming more clear over time. A study done by Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California Los Angeles showed that students had better recall with handwritten notes. Other research is confirming this. Sometimes students think it is quicker to type out notes, but the physical act of writing and need to pick out only the important details all help to aid in recall.
Avoid Multitasking: We like to think that we can do many tasks all at once, also known as multitasking. In actuality, when we think we are doing many things simultaneously, we actually switch our attention from task-to-task. The brain struggles to attend to everything. So, what we are doing when we try to listen to lyrics, mess around on social media, have the t.v. on and try to read our novel at the same time, is making the brain work very, very hard. This tires our brain, increases fatigue and splinters our attention. There are studies that use MRI technology to show how the brain changes while attending to multiple tasks. In order to focus our attention and allow our brain to utilize its memory processes at peak capacity, turn off the distractions! This means phones, social media, tv, et cetera. Choose quiet, calm spaces to allow your brain the energy to focus on the material you are trying to learn.
Now, let's put these study tactics to use and tackle the end of this academic year!
Angela Keef began at Tilton School as the Director of The Center for Academic Achievement in 2015. Prior to Tilton she worked for more than 22 years in a variety of colleges and education settings in New Hampshire. She holds State of New Hampshire General Special Education Experienced Educator Certification K-12 and State of New Hampshire Special Education Administrator Certification.
Keef earned a Master's of Education, Special Education from the University of New Hampshire and a Bachelor of Science, Communication Disorders also from the University of New Hampshire.