Monday, September 6, 2010

Study Smarter, Not Harder

The New York Times reports on a number of easy to do techniques to make the most of your study time.

Don't stick to one study location.

Simply alternating the room where a person studies improves retention. A classic 1978 experiment found that college students who studied 40 vocabulary words in two different rooms tested far better than students who studied the words twice, in the same room. Studies have confirmed the finding for a variety of topics. The brain associates what's being studied and external cues. You remember the green room with the First Amendment or the smell of the rug with the eating habits of hippos. In effect, you're forcing the brain to make multiple associations with the same material.

Study distinct but related concepts in one sitting, not just one topic.

Alternating, for example, vocabulary, reading and speaking in a new language — leaves a far deeper impression on the brain than concentrating on one skill at a time. Musicians practice sessions often include a mix of scales, musical pieces and rhythmic work. Many athletes routinely mix their workouts with strength, speed and skill drills.

Take periodic breaks - your brain needs rest just like a muscle does

Testing not only assesses command of a subject, but helps one learn it.

Much like the bizarre Heisenberg uncertainty principle - where measurement a property of a particle alters that property - testing measures, but also changes and improves knowledge. Testing makes people cringe but that's the point. The harder it is to remember something, the harder it will be to forget.

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