Four scientific ways to hack your learning

During my university studies, I haven’t been to any book examinations until now. I’m studying a minor in cognitive science and there’s a bunch of book examinations I need to take.

The book I’ve now studied is Fundamentals of Cognition (Michael Eysenck, 2012). I’ve been worried, because I don’t have any practice in studying for a book examination. Luckily this book covers topics such as memory and learning! What does cognitive psychology say about studying efficiently?

Process the information deeply

According to the level-of-processing theory, the deeper your analyze the information you’re learning, the longer-lasting the memory traces are.

Do not just read the material - do something with it. For example, put the key points in your own words. This forces you to process the text semantically instead of just glossing over. The best thing you can do is to relate the information to yourself somehow - this gives an extra boost to recollection.

Test your learning

Research says that the long-term retention is better when you test yourself while you study. Instead of reading a chapter twice, read it once, close the book and try to remember as much as you can. (This is also known as the Feynman Technique.)

When rehearsing the material, spaced repetition software (SRS) such as Anki can be a powerful tool. The forgetting curve hypothesis says that forgetting happens exponentially. Anki will test you just ahead of this curve. Also, creating a deck of flashcards is a way to process the material more deeply.

Learn in environment similar to the exam hall

You recall information better when you’re in similar context as you were in when learning the information. This includes the physical environment but also your internal physiological state and mood.

This would suggest that you should study at the same time of the day as the exam is. If you’re going to eat or drink coffee before exam, do it before studying, too. Study in an environment that is similar to the examination hall.

Bonus: Get very drunk immediately after studying

Consolidating new memory traces is a process that takes hours. Alcohol inhibits consolidation of memory, so if you drink heavily, nothing will interfere with consolidation of the material you’ve learned while studying. This means you will remember the material more clearly.

I haven’t tried out this method myself, but hey, there’s research so it must be true.


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