Let’s review some eminently sensible science-backed ways to remember more when you’re studying. Then, for fun as well as for your edification, we’ll look at some off-the-wall but nevertheless science-backed tips to add some icing to the cake.
First, make a study plan to organise your study time and working on assignments. This ensures you spread your studying and practice testing (discussed below) over time. Cramming doesn’t work.
When you sit down to study, don’t just read; know why you’re reading. Begin by skimming, so you get a quick overview and to prime your brain for the information. Check out the headings, tables and figures; notice the key terms (highlighted or in italics in the text).
Then think about what you already know about the material. Now your brain’s neural circuits are fired up and ready to accept new information on the topic. And that’s really what learning is — making new neural circuits.
Now you can read more deeply. Look for something you can use; read to learn about a concept or the steps to achieving something (e.g. solving a problem, preparing for a meeting).
Your short-term memory doesn’t last very long so, in order to retain information, you need to do something with it. Every few paragraphs, stop and think about what you’ve read; paraphrase it to yourself to make sure you understand it. Explain it to an imaginary friend if you have one. Pets are good, too, particularly goldfish as they can’t get up and walk away.
Make mental images of what you’re learning. See the information as a scene in your mind’s eye or, better still, imagine yourself putting it to use. Or think about a time when you could have put that information to use. Or think about when you’ve seen the material put into practice by someone else and run that through in your mind. Discuss the material with others and talk about how you can apply it, too.
Multi-tasking shreds those neural circuits you’ve just built up, so don’t do it. When you read or study, read or study. No exceptions. If you’re a technoholic, put in some serious study time, say 10 or 15 minutes. Then reward yourself with a 10-minute tech break. Gradually increase your serious study time until you can concentrate for an hour. You’ll learn more and put it to better use. You’ll get better grades, too.
When you’re reading, and in class, take notes. Take them the old-fashioned way — by longhand. This really improves your understanding of the concepts, probably because writing longhand means you need to process the information, work out what’s most important and put it into your own words — all of which increases learning. (When you need to learn just facts, the laptop is fine.)
A great way to take notes is to draw a line down the page about 1/3rd over. Take notes on the larger bit. On the other bit, write questions you can ask yourself to test your memory and understanding of the material. (That’s called the Cornell note-taking system and it works a treat. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WtW9IyE04OQ for more information.)
Know you’ll be tested on the material. That alone can improve your recall of the material by 40 to 75 per cent.
Complete the practice test questions and case studies at the end of every chapter. That enhances learning, as do the flash cards in CourseMate Express. Keep practising the test questions and flash cards until you always get them right. (Newsflash: We’re moving the second case study to CourseMate Express for the 7th edition, which is due for release in October 2018; but rest assured: there are still two case studies for each chapter in Parts 2 through 5.)
When you’ve taken a test or completed an assignment, look back over it to see how you could do better next time.
And now for the crazy but probably valid tips:
Eat a handful of walnuts every day to improve your thinking.
Workout with weights just before you study to improve your long-term memory by about 20 per cent.
When you’ve finished studying, take a short nap. Sleeping for as few as six minutes lets your brain cells connect with other brain cells, which makes the information stick — provided you keep those circuits alive by putting what you’ve learned to use or, at the very least, by reviewing it.
The caffeine in a cup of coffee can help the information you’ve just learned move into your long-term memory.
So there we have it. Enjoy your learning and see it as an important path to the future, not a chore.