- Tom stafford
- Senior Lecturer in Psychology – University of Sheffield, United Kingdom
You might think you know how your brain works, but when it comes to memory, research suggests you don’t.
If we are trying to learn something, many of us study in a way that prevents our mind from remembering. Fortunately, the same research also reveals how we can improve our learning performance.
We have all faced difficult exams at least once in our life. And whether it’s submitting a school assignment, college final exam, or test at work, there’s almost always one piece of advice given to us: prepare a study plan.
With this plan in place, we can divide our time preparing for the test rather than relying on one or two intense study sessions the day before the test.
That’s good advice, and it boils down to four words: Rush study doesn’t work. Unfortunately, many of us ignore this rule. At least one of the studies showed that 99% of the students admitted to having followed the flash study method.
You might think it’s just a disorganization. I recognize here that it is much easier to leave the preparation for the test until the last minute than it is to prepare for it weeks or months in advance.
However, memory studies have suggested that something else is playing a role.
For example, a 2009 study by Nat Cornell of the University of California, Los Angeles found that dividing learning time into multiple sessions was more effective than overwhelming the brain with study material for 90% of participants. to one of his experiences.
However, 72 percent of study participants said they thought the padding was more helpful. What is going on in our minds to deceive us this way?
Memory studies suggest that we have an alarming tendency to rely on our familiarity with the subject to judge whether we know it.
But the problem is, mere familiarity with the subject doesn’t serve us to predict whether or not we can get something specific out of it.
Familiar, I don’t remember
After six hours of reviewing the material (with three cups of coffee and five chocolate bars), it is easy to think that the material has been stored in our memory. Every page, every important fact evokes a comfortable feeling of familiarity.
In-depth study of the material leaves our sensory and memory systems vigorously active, allowing our brains to quickly label our study notes as “something you’ve seen before.”
But being able to discern something doesn’t mean being able to remember it.
There are many parts of the brain that maintain different types of memory. Discernment is strongly influenced by the ease with which information passes through sensory areas of our brain, such as the visual cortex, when you look at your study notes.
The memory process is supported by a network of different brain regions, including the frontal cortex and temporal lobe, which coordinate their work to retrieve memory from the cues given to it.
And just because your visual cortex smoothly processed your study notes after five hours of study doesn’t mean the rest of your brain will be able to rebuild the memory of those notes when you really need them.
This ability to make judgments about our mental capacities is called “metacognition” because it represents unreal judgments.
The study of this ability has led to the identification of other misconceptions. For example, many of us think that seriously thinking about trying to study something will help us remember it. However, studies show that this is not true.
It is much more important to reorganize the information so that it has a structure that can be remembered. In other words, rewrite the content of what you want to learn in a way that makes sense to you.
Knowing about common mistakes, such as the ability called “metacognition,” means that you can help yourself by assuming that you will fall into them, and therefore, you can try to avoid such mistakes.
Therefore, the advice to space study sessions makes sense, if we assume that people do not space enough between study sessions. (This is a valid assumption according to the research results).
We must remember the advantages of spaced study sessions, as this is incompatible with our desires to rely on a comfortable sense of the subject when deciding how to study.
Simply put, sometimes we can achieve incredible goals by not following those desires related to our unreal mental abilities. How much should a certain number of sessions be devoted to your studies? The answer is: a little more than you really want.