Are you a left-brain thinker or a right-brain thinker? Are you an auditory learner or a visual learner? New research says that we should forget these categories entirely. An article published in The New York Times reveals that researchers have discovered much of the advice about learning and studying that’s been handed down to us is unsupported at best even flat-out wrong.
Take the idea that you should stay in the same place when you study, and that it should be a clean, quiet space. Psychologists found that students who studied the same material in different places, one of which was not quiet, did better than students studying the same subject in the same room. “What we think is happening here is that, when the outside context is varied, the information is enriched, and this slows down forgetting,” said Dr. Bjork, author of the experiment and psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. Whenever you study something, your surroundings also get registered along with the information that you’re explicitly trying to remember. It seems that the more surroundings that get attached to that information, the more likely you will be to remember it because it will have “more neural scaffolding.”
The idea of immersion in a single subject was also studied. Researchers found that students who studied one subject solidly for a long amout of time retained less than students who studied related subjects side by side for shorter periods of time. For example, a student studying a foreign language would do better to switch between reading, writing and speaking during an hour’s study rather than spend a hour of uninterrupted reading.
Researchers also found testing to be an important part of the learning process, rather than merely a tool to measure its results. One study conducted at the University of Washington found that students who studied a passage once and then were tested on it in the following session retained information better than students who studied the passage twice and then were tested immediately afterward. It turns out that testing can in fact help reinforce the ability to recall facts. “Testing has such bad connotation; people think of standardized testing or teaching to the test,” Dr. Roediger said. “Maybe we need to call it something else, but this is one of the most powerful learning tools we have.”
It’s not a revelation that students who cram for an exam forget the material shortly afterwords, but the new research further argues for spreading out study time. That doesn’t even mean you have to spend more time studying, just take those three or four hours that would be spent cramming and spread them out over the course of the week.
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