To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Take a Test

A recent study published in the journal Science and summarized in the New York Times explored the concept of retrieval memory and found that what we do to try to retain material after we’ve read it makes all the difference.

Which of the following methods do you think would be most effective for retaining information?

1) Reading the material over and over again,

2) concept mapping the material, or

3) taking a test on the material.  

Concept mapping was found to be more effective in enhancing learning and memory than re-reading/studying, but not as effective as taking a test on the material. There are unlimited implications and conclusions one may draw from the results of the study, for example, that it’s important for a student to make use of any practice quizzes and exercises available.   The researchers were somewhat surprised at the results, because, throughout history, scholars have believed that intense study (cramming) was the best way to learn and retain information. In the past decade or so, specialists in learning theory as well as practitioners (teachers) have emphasized the efficacy of concept mapping as a powerful learning tool. And although mapping is an effective educational strategy, mainly because it helps you to organize what you’ve read and/or learned, no one ever touted “taking a test” as the best way to make sure you are able to retrieve the information in the future. By retrieving it (in a test), we are making the pathway more distinct, or, as one psychologist put it, making the info “more recallable in the future.” Whether you are a high school student, or even graduate student – giving yourself tests and quizzes may be really effective.  

Psychology of memory and learning in the NY Times here. 

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