MemoryHow to Learn
Parrot-fashion revision is slow and boring, because it’s unnatural. Our brains just weren’t built for rote learning random facts, and it’s not an effective way to study. To learn a topic properly, you need to understand it, work with it, and practise remembering and answering questions about it.
Here are six tips for getting new information into your head.
So, open that uninspiring textbook... and here we go:
Don’t just read the text over and over. That’ll never work. Make notes, figure out the key points and how they link together. Drawing a spider diagram or mind map can help to clarify how everything connects. Boil those endless paragraphs into nuggets of information.
Let your brain play with the material, in as many ways as you can. Draw a picture, write a story, get the playdough out – or pretend you’re being interviewed about it on a chat show. This might sound like a frivolous way to spend your precious revision time, but the idea but this will help you to understand the subject in a deeper way than by just reading it. And it’s enjoyable, which means you’ll be more energised...
Create ways of testing your knowledge as you go along. This forces your brain to practise retrieving the information from its memory banks. If you’re sitting exams, get your hands on as many past papers as possible, so that you can put your new knowledge to the crucial test – do you know enough to convince an examiner?
If you can explain a concept to someone else and field any follow-up questions they have, then you’ll know you’ve understood it. This also prompts your brain to work with the material in a new way, which will help to lodge it in your longterm memory - see Tip 2. And if your friend asks you a question you can’t answer, how great to find that out before the exam...
Your brain has a massive memory bank, but unlike a computer, it needs you to go over new information several times for it to really sink in. Creating a new memory involves a new pathway being laid down between braincells, but this pathway will disappear unless it’s strengthened by being thought back over many times. Look back over what you’ve learned at the end of every study session to consolidate the memory. And have another quick look the next day, week, and month. Otherwise all your hard study will slip through your neurons like water through a sieve...
For more about what goes on in your brain while you’re learning, watch Meet Your Brain.
This is the easy one. Learn the stuff, then go to bed. Or even just take a nap. Either way, your brain will rehearse the information (see Tip 5 above) but without any effort from your conscious self... Studies show that recall really does improve after you sleep – and similarly, marks go down if you don’t get enough sleep. Two reasons why pulling an all-nighter is a bad idea.
Successful revision takes time and effort. There’s no shortcut to understanding a subject properly and being able to remember everything when you need to.
Here’s how to make your study time as productive as possible, by getting your brain active.
Resources for learners of all ages, including video clips.
Great resources to help you revise for your exams.
Unleash your own imagination and create dazzling new ideas.
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