Improve Your Retention and Grades

Memory expert Elizabeth Bjork and Robert Bjork (2011) gave the advice to improve your retention and grades. Spaced practice helps in better retention. BY AYUSH

Very often students are under the impression that to memorize their new learning properly, they need to keep revising the new lesson, i.e., to keep rereading it again and again. But memory researcher Henry Roediger and Jeffrey Karpicke (2006) believe that apart from a rehearsal of the material you need to repeatedly do self-testing yourselves. They called it a testing effect or retrieval practice effect or test-enhanced learning. They demonstrated in one of their studies in 2008 that students could recall the meaning of 40 previously learned Swahili words much better if they repeatedly tested themselves, rather than if they spent the same time restudying the words.

The key is that to master new information, you must actively process that information. Our brain is like a muscle that grows stronger with exercise. Many studies have shown that people can learn and remember better when they put the material to be learned in their own words, rehearse it, and then retrieve and review it again.

These principles are included in a method called the SQ3R study method. SQ3R is an acronym for 5 steps – Survey, Question, Read, Retrieve, and Review.

A survey refers to taking a bird's eye view of the material that needs to be learned. You should scan the headlines and notice how the material is organized.

Secondly, you need to try and answer its learning objective questions and if you try and fail to retrieve the answer, that helps you to learn. The reason is that those who test their understanding before reading and find out what is it that they don't know yet will learn and remember better.

The third activity is read actively, i.e., search for the answers to the questions. At each sitting, read-only that much of a chapter that you can absorb without getting tired. Read actively and critically. Ask questions, take notes, make the ideas as your own.

The fourth activity is to retrieve it. Retrieve the main ideas of the chapter. Test yourself. This will help you to realize what and how much you know and what you still need to master. The testing itself will help you to learn and retain information more effectively. For effective learning, test yourself repeatedly.

The fifth and final step is to review. Read over any notes that you have taken and quickly review the whole chapter. Write down what a concept is before rereading to check your understanding.

Apart from the SQ3R method, some other techniques will also help in improving your learning. These are –

Distribute Your Study Time -

Spaced practice helps in better retention than massed practice. It means that you will remember material better when you space your time over many study sessions rather than trying to mug up in one session. Many students make that mistake. They try to mug up entire study material just in one day before an exam and they miserably fail to retain that information. It should be memorized over several days in small portions at a time. Instead of trying to learn the entire chapter in one sitting, read just one section, and then turn to something else. Interleaving your study of one subject with a study of other subjects will boost long term retention and will protect you from false overconfidence that you have memorized the whole chapter.

Learn to Think Critically -

Whether you are reading at home or you are learning in a class, note people's assumptions and values. Pay attention to what perspectives or biases underlies an argument and evaluate the evidence or proof given for those assumptions. Find out whether these assumptions are based on informative experiments or are just anecdotal. Evaluate their conclusions and judge whether there are alternative explanations.

Process Class Information Actively -

Listen for the main ideas and sub-ideas of a lecture. Write them down. Ask questions during and after class. In class, process the information actively, which will help you to understand and retain it better. Make the information as your own by taking notes in your own words. Relate what you read to what you already know. Tell someone about it.

Overlearn -

Very often people suggest that overlearning improves retention. But there are pitfalls to that. We tend to overestimate how much we know. The feeling of familiarity can be deceptively comforting. For optimum effectiveness, one should use retrieval practice more and should spend extra study time on testing his knowledge.

Memory expert Elizabeth Bjork and Robert Bjork (2011) gave the following advice to improve your retention and grades:

"Spend less time on the input side and more time on the output side, such as summarizing what you have read from memory or getting together with friends and asking each other questions. Any activities that involve testing yourself- that is, activities that require you to retrieve or generate information, rather than just representing information to yourself – will make your learning both more durable and flexible".


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