Pop quiz. Which of the following techniques will help you learn most efficiently:
- Re-reading material you’ve just read
- Highlighting or underlying text while you read
- Recalling or retrieving the material in your mind after studying
- Creating a concept map of what you’re studying
Got it? If you said recalling or retrieving the studied material, you got it.
All of the other techniques can be useful too, but they fall short in the long run. The reason has to do with two different kinds of memory we’ve got. While you’re studying, or actively doing anything—like reading or listening to this—you’re engaging your working memory. This is online memory used in the moment.
But to make the material stick, you have to put that new knowledge into long-term memory. That’s where retrieval practice comes in. When you actively recall what you’ve learned, you check what’s in your own mind, not what’s written in front of you.
This goes for adults and kids. It’s also why flash cards are still so useful.
So the next time you’re trying to learn something new, don’t just read and think “I got this.” Turn away, and see what you remember. Summarize the main points of what you just read in your head.
Now, can you remember which of the techniques is best? See, you’re getting smarter already.
→ But don’t tell your kids they’re smart. Here’s what to tell them instead.
– Oakley, Rogowsky & Sejnowski (2012).Uncommon Sense Teaching.
– Karpicke & Grimaldi (2012). “Retrieval-based learning: A perspective for enhancing meaningful learning,” Educational Science Review.
– Smith, et al (2016). “Retrieval practice protects memory against acute stress,” Science.
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