Learn More by Studying Less

We all need to remember things in our daily lives. Students, especially, need to cram their brains full of facts and concepts. One of the primary benefits of a college education is learning how to learn. New research, however, has overturned some honored strategies for best learning and replaced them with startling new approaches.

Dr. Robert Bjork knows a lot about how we learn. He is a professor of psychology at UCLA and director of their Learning and Forgetting Lab. He has built a distinguished career focused on how we learn everything from our ABCs to how to return a tennis serve. His research contradicts much of the time-honored advice on success with learning.

Remember those all-night cram sessions? Did you notice how ineffective they were? Dr. Bjork believes that learning is more effective if there is a pause between learning sessions. That means that studying for a while and then taking a break before coming back for more study is more effective than one long, brutal cram-fest. In fact, the longer the delay between study sessions the more effective the learning .

The same "learn, pause, learn more" pattern applies to in-class learning, too. Dr. Bjork recommends against taking notes during a class lecture. Instead, he suggests writing notes immediately following the lecture. This delayed reinforcement is more effective in cementing the material into your memory than what he calls "stenographer mode" note taking.

Forget about those study carrels in the library, too. Dr. Bjork suggests that studying in one place is only useful if you are going to take the exam in that location. Otherwise, he suggests that you vary your study surroundings to better prepare your mind for recall in the test environment.

Dr. Bjork also recommends against a grueling night of studying one subject. Instead, he suggests "interleaving" your studying. That means skipping from topic to related topic, returning often but never bogging down. He believes that this approach results in better overall retention than intensive focus on each topic in its turn.

Believing that people have unlimited capacity for memory, Dr. Bjork says that locating the fact in our memory is the activity that makes it available to you long term. Even searching for a fact and failing will make remembering the correct fact easier in the future. Wow, by that theory I should be a wizard at neural chemistry now, based on my abject failure to recall those facts in college!

Have you tried any of Dr. Bjork's techniques? Do you study better with pizza or cookies? Rock music or silence? Do you have a study buddy or a study group? Click on the Comment button and share your tips.

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