How To Learn (Better)

A lot of the ways we are being told to study are just plain wrong. If you’ve made it this far, you probably have some idea how to effectively prepare for tests and complete assignments. The fact that you’re reading this suggests that you have some desire to do even better, which is one of the most important steps to success in the first place. But still, maybe you’ll find that something is lacking. Perhaps it’s hard for you to remember things you learn in school in the long term, or maybe your go to study methods sometimes fail you, no matter how hard you try to perfect them. Even if you think you are doing everything by the book, you need to consider the possibility that the book itself is incorrect.

I tend to keep my short term goals at the forefront of my mind despite constant efforts to keep the big picture in perspective, and as such I take my goals (like studying for tests) one at a time. I consider them obstacles to be surmounted, and once I’m done, I don’t look back. The only problem then comes when I reach the midterm. And then, when I reach the final. (And then, hopefully, when I apply everything I’ve learned in college to my future career!)

The problem with treating exams like this is that it leads you to believe you can cram for them one at a time and get by just fine. You may do okay on the test, but you aren’t doing yourself any favors. Did you know, according to the cognitive psychology-based book Make It Stick by Peter C. Brown, if you cram for a test you are in fact less likely to remember the information in the long term?

Perhaps you suspected that–after all, everyone warns against cramming for tests. But did you also know that reading a text immediately after reading it once (be it your notes, a textbook, or what have you) does almost nothing to help? You should instead space out your readings by a few days. This will lead to better long term recall of the information, which means you don’t have to cram for the midterm and final, either.

What’s more, if you quiz yourself on the information instead of rereading your notes at all, you’ll do a whole lot better on the actual test. Set larger intervals between instances of quizzing yourself, and you’ll do even better. So it seems that science has confirmed some of what we already knew deep down must have been true: cramming for tests is bad. But it has also given us some crucial new insights: quiz yourself instead of just rereading information! Rote memorization may serve you in the short term, but it won’t do much for your long term memory.

By Madeleine Fleming

Madeleine Fleming is a Campus Clipper publishing intern and a rising sophomore at NYU.  A lover of reading, writing, and learning in every way possible, Madeleine is excited to be writing about college study habits for the Campus Clipper. For over 20 years, the Campus Clipper has been offering awesome student discounts in NYC,  from the East Side to Greenwich Village. Along with inspiration, the company offers students a special coupon booklet and the Official Student Guide, which encourage them to discover new places in the city and save money on food, clothing and services. 

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