As 68.5 million students start their studies this year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, scientists now say that the common wisdom on information-retention may not be the most successful.
"Early Show" Contributor Dr. Jennifer Hartstein, a child and adolescent psychologist, discussed common myths about effective studying -- and offered some helpful hints for students hoping to ace their next exam.
MYTH: STUDY IN ONE SPOT
Individual learning can be researched very closely, as you can control for many variables. Currently, what is being found is that students who study in different environments actually retain information much better. This happens because of how the brain processes material. Even though the perceptions may be unconscious, the brain makes associations between what is studying and the background sensations that are occurring. Forcing the brain to make multiple associations with the same material, may provide the support needed to improve recall of it. Basically, changing the background can enrich the information and slow down the forgetting of material; you are building knowledge in multiple contexts.
MYTH: FOCUS ON ONE SKILL
If you are studying a foreign language, for example, you may want to study vocabulary, read and speak the language, all within one sitting. Participating in multi-modal learning (reading, speaking, listening) leaves a deeper impression of the material on the brain.
MYTH: DON'T CRAM FOR TESTS
Cramming, let's be fair, will help someone achieve a good grade on an exam. The likelihood, though, is that the material will disappear as quickly as it was shoved in.
Hartstein suggested these tips for retaining information and getting help for your kids:
• If you mix up the type of practice being done in a specific subject, you have to learn to apply the problem solving skills to each situation, thus strengthening your knowledge base. If you only do one type of problem repeatedly, you only have one strategy, which doesn't help in other aspects of the subject. In many ways, this is in direct opposition to what we have been taught and are teaching. If problems/situations are varied slightly, the brain has to find the subtleties, which strengthens the learning.
• Spacing the studying improves later recall, without necessarily requiring more effort overall. Why? It is believed that when you revisit material, you reinforce it continuously, which helps maintain it in your memory.
• Testing helps this process. Retrieving information does help students store the information better, making it more accessibly in the future. Testing requires us to remember difficult things, making them harder to forget in the future. The harder it is to get it into our memories, the more likely we won't forget it.
• Don't underestimate motivation. We've thought a lot about the learning style question, if kids are auditory learners or visual learners. The fact is no research supports this. Even when they've done studies, it shows us that kids can learn regardless of the teaching style of their teacher, regardless of their learning style as long as they're engaged. They're finding learning style and teaching style don't necessarily have to mesh as long as you're work on motivating and keeping your kids in school. You want to keep them interested, get them to be involved. You want to space their studies out. Cramming isn't going to keep it in their brain. Spacing it out over time will help more. We hate the idea of testing, but testing reinforces, it keeps it in our memory.
• Getting Help: You want to ask the teachers how your kids are doing. There are lots of learning centers. Go to the school, they might have tutors they can recommend, there might be older students that can work with your kid to help them. But try not to only have all help be you because then you'll have conflict. See if you can bring in external people. Talk to your kids about finding learning support. Don't just spring it on them.