Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Smart Way to Study

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Smart Way to Study

Article excerpt

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Combine the aphorisms that "practice makes perfect" and "timing is everything" into one, and you might get something resembling the findings published in the journal Psychological Science. Proper spacing of lessons, the researchers report, can dramatically enhance learning. Also, larger gaps between study sessions result in better recall of facts. Conversely: Cramming--whether it is math for a midterm or a foreign language in anticipation of a trip abroad--is not effective in the long haul.

Led by Hal Pashler and John Wixted, professors of psychology at University of California-San Diego (UCSD), the study has implications for education. In light of the study, the coauthors write, "It appears no longer premature for psychologists to offer some rough practical guidelines to those who wish to use study time in the most efficient way possible to promote long-term retention."

More than 1,000 subjects participated in three sessions. In the first session, they were taught a set of obscure but true facts, including: Norway is the European nation that consumes the most spicy Mexican food, and Rudyard Kipling invented snow golf. The second session was a review of the same facts. The time between the sessions ranged from several minutes to several months. Study time was held constant in all the conditions. After some further delay, up to about one year, subjects were then tested.

Not surprisingly, when the interval between the second session and the test was increased, memory got worse--reflecting the familiar curve of forgetting. The interesting finding, however, was that increasing the time between the study sessions reduced the rate of forgetting. …

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