Whether you're headed back to school or just wanting to pick up a new skill, like a language or an instrument, learning new things is amazing. But, is there a better way to learn something quickly and retain that knowledge?
The first step is to skip the laptop. Though you might be quicker at typing, writing with pen and paper is the way to go when taking notes. Not only are there oodles of distractions online, but researchers have found that those who type process the information at a shallower level. As opposed to simply transcribing verbatim, re-framing the information into your own words, while writing out physically, leads to better performance on tests.
To retain those notes, study - sleep - study. In a French experiment, two groups were taught the Swahili translation for sixteen French words over two sessions. Group one studied in the morning, then took a break and studied again in the evening. Group two studied in the evening, slept for the night and then resumed studying in the morning. Though there was the same amount of time between the two study sessions, the sleep group could recall ten of the sixteen words, while the no-sleep group could only get seven and a half.
Learning a new motor skill? Try modifying your practice slightly. A study of 86 healthy volunteers were asked to learn a computer-based motor skill over two training sessions. One group’s second training session had them learn the task in a slightly altered way, while the other repeated the task with the exact same practice. Those who used two different strategies nearly doubled the speed of accuracy of the task, compared to the control group. What does this look like in the real world? Say you're perfecting your tennis game and try switching between racquets with slightly different weights between sessions. However, researchers suggest you don't make the modification too big. For example, switching between tennis and badminton shows no increased success in tennis.
Can't focus? Get some exercise. A study found that those who worked out for 15 minutes on a stationary bike and then completed a memory task, completed the task significantly faster than the group that didn't exercise. Even a quick walk around the block can clear up your mind.
Trying to memorize the electromagnetic spectrum in the order of increasing frequency? Who isn't? Try a mnemonic device such as an acronym sentence, like, Raging Martians Invaded Venus Using X-ray Guns. This method has been proven in several studies as a way of committing information to memory. Why? Theories suggest that adults can only hold a limited number of items in our short-term memory. By grouping items into a mnemonic, it allows your brain to hold on to larger amounts of information, which can eventually aid into the creation of long-term memories. The weirder the sentence is the better, as unique sentences have a higher chance of sticking than boring ones. And say it out loud. Test individuals were given a list of words where half were read silently and the other half were read out loud. When given a new list of words and asked to identify which ones they had already read previously, they were able to recall the words read out loud with significantly more frequency than those read silently.
Here's a no-brainer, make sure you're hydrated. In a study where participants fasted and abstained from fluids since the previous evening, they were asked to perform on a reaction test. One group was given 500 milliliters of water right before the test, while the other group wasn't. The group that was able to hydrate before the test obviously performed significantly better. This is because water helps improve overall mental processing and learning.
And after all that hard work, give yourself a reward. One study found that reward-motivated learning, in this particular study it was monetary compensation, led to increased memory formation, and this effect even increased when the reward was of higher value. This finding highlights how reward motivation promotes memory formation via the release of feel-good neurotransmitter, dopamine, in the hippocampus prior to learning.
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