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Study habits to boost learning and memory

The New York Times has an article on research that counters traditional ideas about learning: Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits.

It’s good to see mainstream media picking up on what’s actually old news - spaced repetition, variation and bitesizing are all mentioned, although not described in those terms. The article also puts paid to the ‘learner style’ nonsense that a lot of education methods are now based on.

"The enormous popularity of the learning-styles approach and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is striking and disturbing."

Aside from a slightly silly comparison to the Heisenberg uncertainty principal that manages to creep in (why can’t education science be interesting for its own sake?), the article includes a lot of useful information for students.

Study advice

  • A change of scenery: regularly altering the learning environment can boost retention. Changing study locations, for example, can strengthen memory formation by providing distinct associations with material from each session.

  • The spice of life: it is more effective to switch frequently between different topics in one study session than to knuckle down and focus on one thing. Not only does the variety maintain motivation by keeping things fresh, it also makes it easier for you to form links and associations between related material.

  • Frequency is more important than session time: as many musicians will tell you, ten minutes a day is far better than one hour a week. Break up your sessions as much as you can - study several times a day if possible. Again, this is good for motivation, but more importantly it creates intervals. Regular recall of learnt material is essential for long-term retention.

  • Test yourself: this isn’t about giving yourself a grade, but forcing yourself to actively recall information. Putting effort into remembering the information engraves it more deeply in your memory.

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