The human brain acquires, retains and retrieves information in a very complex manner. Knowing exactly how is the key to studying more efficiently and more effectively.
Every nuance of learning and memory has been studied including diet, time of day, length, atmosphere – and the results are both valuable and fascinating.
Many teachers tell their students to re-read textbooks and class notes as many times as possible; however, testing yourself repeatedly on the information your studying is significantly more effective, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal.
Testing or quizzing yourself before a big test exercises your brain in retrieving and applying the knowledge from memory. It’s just like practicing anything else. The more you practice, the better you get.
Taking a pretest allows your brain to practice retrieving information from memory, which is exactly what students do on tests, and eventually, you will become more proficient at this.
This type of studying can be especially beneficial for the SAT/ACT. There are many SAT practice tests and ACT practice tests available for students to use. The article cited one student, Keenan Harrell, who studied for the SAT by repeatedly taking practice tests to the point of aggravation.
Harrell raised his SAT score to 1800, a 50% increase from his PSAT score of 1200 – all by taking practice tests. Harrell said that taking the practice tests also helped with pacing his time on the SAT.
Many students study information in parts, memorizing little bits and pieces; however, it is more effective to explain the entire process out loud. If you’re studying for the digestive system, it’s better to practice explaining out loud how all the parts work – rather than studying a list of its parts, according to Jeffry Karpicke, an assistant professor of psychological sciences at Purdue University.
This allows the brain to focus on the entire process, naturally and quickly, making connections between information – which is similar to what students will do on essay or short answer tests.
Sleep and diet can also play an important role in test performance. Research shows that students should review the toughest test material right before going to bed the night before a test. This gives your brain a chance to soak in the information, making it easier to recall on the next day’s test.
Many students wake up early to study; however, this approach can actually inhibit your memory. It interferes with your natural sleep pattern and your rapid-eye-movement sleep that boosts memory and recall.
It’s pretty common for students of all ages to pull all-nighters where they literally don’t sleep at all before a test. However, this habit has a very strong correlation with lower test grades. Many students simply can’t think without sleep. Students should maintain their usual habits and sleep patterns. This aids memory and recall the best.
High-carb, high-fiber, slow-digesting foods like oatmeal can also improve memory. Your diet for the previous week can affect how well you can remember on test day.
Other techniques such as studying without music or the TV on, familiarizing yourself with the test room and reducing stress by thinking about the test in a separate manner can help students improve memory and ultimately test scores.