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Becoming a Better Student

Improving your learning and information retention skills

  Good Source Material One important factor is the quality of the material you use and the way it is presented. It has long been thought that multimedia learning (using words, audio, images, graphs, maps, and animation) can improve a students ability to learn and recall the information they have learnt. Looking into the subject there are many studies which have proven just that but one study in particular shows a massive improvement. Richard Mayer is a professor of psychology at the University of California and has 25 years experience in testing student’s abilities to study when the information is presented in various ways. Recently Professor Mayer and his team performed ten different studies where students were taught scientific methods. Some of the students were taught using words alone and some were taught using words and other media. On average there was an 89% improvement in learning and recall when multimedia methods were used.     A clear workspace and set times An oldie but still very true, it is important to have an area which tidy and has no clutter as this has been proven to help with study. Try to find a quiet area with a lot of space, sunlight and if possible a house plant. Photosynthesising plants produce more oxygen and an oxygen rich environment can help your brains performance. If studying for exams then it is helpful to plan which subjects you will study during particular sessions. Planning ahead can help you focus and utilise your time more effectively spreading it across the topics as required.     Use it or loose it In January 2004 the pier reviewed magazine Nature explained how the grey matter in people’s minds increased when they learnt to juggle but then reverted back when they stopped. The study took test subjects and monitored their brains using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to measure any changes to their brains when they were taught a task (in this case juggling). The imaging showed that the amount of grey matter in the area responsible for visual memory increased as they were practicing juggling. The subjects then stopped juggling and after a while they were measured again revealing that the new grey matter had gone. The study demonstrates something already known by Neurobiologist and called ‘Synaptic Pruning’. This is a natural process that the brain goes through especially in adolescents where many of the synaptic pathways created as children (as children we overproduce these pathways) but, no longer required, are lost but this allows others to strengthen (New Scientist issue 2826). By repeated learning techniques such as reading from source, making notes and rewriting the information in your own words you strengthen these synaptic links associated with the subject matter and make it easier to remember. In the same way if studying for exams using revision cards which have concise pieces of information on can be very useful, if you periodically read through them. Sources
  1. Department of Neurology, University of Regensburg, Regensburg 93053, Germany
  2. Department of Psychiatry, University of Jena, 07740 Jena, Germany
  3. Institute of Neuroradiology, University of Regensburg, Regensburg 93053, Germany
  See http://psychology.about.com/od/educationalpsychology/tp/effective-learning.htm for more ideas.     Always remain a student Never be afraid to look things up you are not completely sure about. Not only does this keep your brain making new or stronger synaptic pathways but it may give you a different view on things which makes it all just click into place. Maths is a prime example, being showed a certain method for percentages can make all the difference. At school I was taught several stages to the process and it wasn’t until leaving when someone taught me a much simpler way. Now if I want to calculate 15% of any amount I simply times that number by 0.15 and there is my answer, simple. A study also suggests that when you have a answer to a question that you know but can’t quite remember, trying to remember the answer can make things worse. Psychologist Karin Humphreys and Amy Beth Warriner suggest that the time it takes for you to remember a fact that is on the tip of your tongue, puts your brain in that same state when you try to remember the fact in the future. In their study they took a group of thirty people and asked them a series of questions and the response time was monitored, some they knew some they didn’t but some the answer was on the tip of their tongue. They were then re-asked the questions two days later and it was found that the answers that sat on their tongue on day 1 were more likely to stay on their tongue on day 2. “The extra time that people spend trying to dredge up the word is what the researchers describe as “incorrect practice” time. Instead of learning the correct word, people are learning the mistake itself” explains Humphreys. Take advantage of the great age we live in and instead of trying to recall the answer from memory, look it up and you will remember it much clearer next time you come across it.