5 Secrets to Improve Learning and Memory

Aug 20, 2014

I’ve already posted a research round-up on becoming an expert at anything. That was focused on the big picture of how to master something over a period of years.

This time let’s get less macro and focus more on the nitty-gritty of what you need to do when you sit down, roll up your sleeves and try to learn something new.

Yeah, It’s Gonna Take Effort

No, I’m not going to lecture you like Grandpa about the virtues of hard work, but your brain takes in a lot every day and remembering everything isn’t realistic. Research consistently shows effort is how you let your grey matter know something is worth retaining.

The more effort you expend, the better you learn:

…undergraduates in the study scored 29 to 63 percentage points higher on tests when they used study techniques like recording complete notes, creating comparative charts, building associations, and crafting practice questions on their screens.

You’re not going to learn much passively. Re-reading material four times was not nearly as effective as reading it once and writing a summary. Even just writing by hand is beneficial. More effort, better results.

There is a system for developing a near-photographic memory and it works, but takes some practice.

The two key things to remember here are testing yourself and spacing out learning over time.

In more than two dozen studies published over the past five years, he has demonstrated that spaced repetition works, increasing knowledge retention by up to 50 percent. And Kerfoot’s method is easily adapted by anyone who needs to learn and remember, not just those pursuing MDs.

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Get Invested

Feeling a connection to the material is powerful. Finding an angle on the subject that makes you curious about it is gold.

Is it too boring? Get invested by betting on your ability to remember it. Yeah, like gambling. Promise yourself a reward before you go to bed and you’ll learn more as you sleep.

Don’t just try to drill knowledge in, connect it to things you already know. Really try to understand it, not just memorize it. This is why teaching someone else is a great way for helping you learn. If you can’t explain it, you don’t know it.

Steroids For Your Brain

Save the healthy eating for another time, coffee and a donut is steroids for your brain. Yes, it’s science. Yes, Red Bull isn’t just for partying, it’s also for studying.

I don’t want to recommend cigarettes to anyone but if you’re already a smoker, light up before you learn. Nicotine does improve cognitive performance.

Fundamentals

We’re always looking for a magic bullet. Truth is that just as with getting in shape, fundamentals like getting enough sleep and regular exercise have far greater effects than well-marketed supplements. Seriously, naps after learning are powerful.

You need to calm down and concentrate. Turn off the music. No group studying. Stop kidding yourself — you can’t multitask. (Guys, when studying stay away from pretty girls. Don’t even think about them.)

Little Tricks

There are lots of little tips that can help as well:

Too lazy for all this? Get a good luck charm. Seriously, they work.

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree

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