Sometimes I feel like I’ve dropped to earth from another planet. The impression is strongest when I discover scientific conclusions that run counter to my personal experience. I felt that way, recently, after reading an article on how to study in Scientific American Mind. As September starts another school year, I was curious to learn if learning habits were much changed since I was a student. They had. One of the myths the article debunked was the notion that underlining text aides memory. According to experts, not only does underling do nothing of the sort, but it serves as a distraction because it draws “attention to individual items rather than to connections across items.” (“What Works, What Doesn’t,” by Katherine et al, Scientific American Mind, Sept/Oct 2013 pg. 52.)
When read this conclusion, I confess my body stiffened with outrage. Not only does underlining help me remember what’s important, it also allows me to make those very connections I’m told it inhibits. Underling served me well as a student and I continue to do so each time I wade through weighty material. The only way scientists will keep me from underlining is by chopping off my hands.
Still, modesty forces me to admit that drawing from personal experience doesn’t always lead to a general truth. Ask me if I see the world is flat or round and my answer will be, ”flat as a pancake.” So I could be wrong about underling. Let’s say, I think the jury is still out on that. Two study techniques have emerged as undisputed winners, however. The first is the habit of quizzing yourself on materials after you’ve read them. Self-testing “triggers a mental search of long-term memory that activates related information, forming multiple memory pathways that make the information easier to access.” (Ibid. pg. 49)
The second recommended technique is to spread studies out over time. Cramming is of no use at all. “To remember something for one week, learning episodes should be 12- 24 hours apart; to remember something for five years, they should be spread six to 12 months apart.” (Ibid, pg. 50) Scientists haven’t figured out why distributed learning works, but on this point, science and I are in sync. Setting a problem aside, after I’ve been grappling with it for a while, works wonders for my understanding. I can’t explain the process. Maybe the brain, like the rest of our anatomy, needs an occasional break. But no one should take my recommendation at face value. I’m guilty of seeing the world as flat, after all. To test the theory yourself, revisit this blog in 12-24 hours and see what you think.
(Courtesy of tundratablogs.com)