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What the Psychology of Human Memory Tells Us about How to Learn Better
What method helps you retain more information — reading, highlighting, or even interrogation?
Have you ever stayed up all night, cramming for exams, practicing two of the worst ways to study, namely, 1) consuming a large amount of information at once on a 2) lack of sleep? Me too. Wouldn’t it have been nice if we were taught not only what to study but also how to study it effectively?
A UK-based company called InnerDrive is doing just that with their initiative Studies that every teacher needs to know -- finding and summarizing the most relevant research that can provide practical tips and tools for teachers to help them improve their students’ memory, mindset and behavior.
The first study InnerDrive highlights focuses on memory. It is a comprehensive paper from 2013, where researchers dug through the cognitive and educational psychology literature to find the best and worst approaches used for learning and memorizing information. The researchers evaluated 10 learning techniques that can easily be adopted by students, teachers and lifelong learners alike.
There were two techniques that came up as most effective for long-term retention of information - practice testing and distributed practice.
Negative associations with testing, stemming from high-stake standardized assessments, overshadow the fact that testing is one of the best techniques to solidify knowledge. When done as a no-stakes practice, testing substantially improves recall of information at a later time. It requires learners to search their long-term memory, activate related information, retrieve and organize information, thus creating multiple pathways in the brain to facilitate later access to that information. You can do practice testing with cue cards, free recall, short-answer questions, and fill-in-the-blank questions. The format of the practice test doesn’t need to be like the one of the actual test you may have to take.
If you are going to spend 8 hours in total studying a particular material, you are much better off distributing it over several days than doing it in one long study session. You are also better off spacing your study sessions with bigger gaps in between. In one study, results surprisingly showed that the students who experienced the most intersession forgetting (because their relearning sessions were separated by 30 days) exhibited better retention of information on the final test compared to students whose learning sessions were separated by 1 day.
In the fairly effective category of learning techniques, we find elaborative interrogation and interleaved practice.
This is the often annoying habit of kids (and teachers) to keep asking “why” even after you give them an answer. This practice forces the learner to generate an explanation, instead of simply recite facts, which facilitates the integration of new information with prior knowledge. For this technique to work, however, higher prior knowledge is needed. The more the learner can process both similarities and differences between related material, the better the retaining of information.
Usually students take a variety of subjects and it is common that when they practice, they do it in blocks - a separate session for each subject. While not abundant, recent research suggests that it is actually better to practice different types of material in the same block. This helps students learn to discriminate between various kinds of problems by promoting organizational processing and item-specific processing.
Finally, here are the two techniques that you probably use most, but are least effective - rereading and highlighting.
Rereading is one of the most widely used techniques amongst students, but there haven’t been enough quality studies done to assess its effectiveness. The only available evidence is mixed and comes from correlational findings from self-reported surveys. For example, there has been found a non-significant negative association between rereading textbook chapters and exam performance and a small but positive association between rereading lecture notes and exam performance. Ultimately, rereading may help the recall of main ideas but not so much of details.
(But my notes look so pretty in all these colors!) Highlighting, underlining, coloring, drawing around and marking text in general are also extremely popular amongst learners. In theory, you should be able to better recall what you have highlighted because of a basic cognitive phenomenon known as the isolation effect -- you are more likely to remember information that sticks out in one way or another. However, studies show very limited positive effects of highlighting on performance, mainly because most students highlight too much or too little, and also because of worse performance related to material that wasn’t highlighted. So, if you are going to highlight anyway, put a limit of one highlighted sentence per paragraph and keep in mind that it will simultaneously help you better remember what you have highlighted and better forget what you have not.
In addition to using these study techniques, learners should also take care of their environment and physical well-being. Getting enough sleep and staying hydrated are particularly important for the brain.
A man's skeleton, found facedown with his hands bound, was unearthed near an ancient ceremonial circle during a high speed rail excavation project.
- A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during an excavation outside of London.
- The discovery was made during a high speed rail project that has been a bonanza for archaeology, as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route.
- An ornate grave of a high status individual from the Roman period and an ancient ceremonial circle were also discovered during the excavations.
Foul play?<p>A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during a high speed rail excavation.</p><p>The positioning of the remains have led archaeologists to suspect that the man may have been a victim of an ancient murder or execution. Though any bindings have since decomposed, his hands were positioned together and pinned under his pelvis. There was also no sign of a grave or coffin. </p><p>"He seems to have had his hands tied, and he was face-down in the bottom of the ditch," <a href="https://www.livescience.com/iron-age-murder-victim-england.html" target="_blank">said archaeologist Rachel Wood</a>, who led the excavation. "There are not many ways that you end up that way."</p><p>Currently, archaeologists are examining the skeleton to uncover more information about the circumstances of the man's death. Fragments of pottery found in the ditch may offer some clues as to exactly when the man died. </p><p>"If he was struck across the head with a heavy object, you could find a mark of that on the back of the skull," Wood said to <a href="https://www.livescience.com/iron-age-murder-victim-england.html" target="_blank">Live Science</a>. "If he was stabbed, you could find blade marks on the ribs. So we're hoping to find something like that, to tell us how he died."</p>
Other discoveries at Wellwick Farm<p>The grim discovery was made at Wellwick Farm near Wendover. That is about 15 miles north-west of the outskirts of London, where <a href="https://www.hs2.org.uk/building-hs2/hs2-green-corridor/" target="_blank">a tunnel</a> is going to be built as part of a HS2 high-speed rail project due to open between London and several northern cities sometime after 2028. The infrastructure project has been something of a bonanza for archaeology as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route that are now being excavated before construction begins. </p><p>The farm sits less than a mile away from the ancient highway <a href="http://web.stanford.edu/group/texttechnologies/cgi-bin/stanfordnottingham/places/?icknield" target="_blank">Icknield Way</a> that runs along the tops of the Chiltern Hills. The route (now mostly trails) has been used since prehistoric times. Evidence at Wellwick Farm indicates that from the Neolithic to the Medieval eras, humans have occupied the region for more than 4,000 years, making it a rich area for archaeological finds. </p><p>Wood and her colleagues found some evidence of an ancient village occupied from the late Bronze Age (more than 3,000 years ago) until the Roman Empire's invasion of southern England about 2,000 years ago. At the site were the remains of animal pens, pits for disposing food, and a roundhouse — a standard British dwelling during the Bronze Age constructed with a circular plan made of stone or wood topped with a conical thatched roof.</p>
Ceremonial burial site<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzMTk0Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NDgwNTIyMX0.I49n1-j8WVhKjIZS_wVWZissnk3W1583yYXB7qaGtN8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C82%2C0%2C83&height=700" id="44da7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="46cfc8ca1c64fc404b32014542221275" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="top down view of coffin" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
A high status burial in a lead-lined coffin dating back to Roman times.
Photo Credit: HS2<p>While these ancient people moved away from Wellwick Farm before the Romans invaded, a large portion of the area was still used for ritual burials for high-status members of society, Wood told Live Science. The ceremonial burial site included a circular ditch (about 60 feet across) at the center, and was a bit of a distance away from the ditch where the (suspected) murder victim was uncovered. Additionally, archaeologists found an ornately detailed grave near the sacred burial site that dates back to the Roman period, hundreds of years later when the original Bronze Age burial site would have been overgrown.</p><p>The newer grave from the Roman period encapsulated an adult skeleton contained in a lead-lined coffin. It's likely that the outer coffin had been made of wood that rotted away. Since it was clearly an ornate burial, the occupant of the grave was probably a person of high status who could afford such a lavish burial. However, according to Wood, no treasures or tokens had been discovered. </p>
Sacred timber circle<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzMTk0Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MDAwOTQ4Mn0.eVJAUcD0uBUkVMFuMOPSgH8EssGkfLf_MjwUv0zGCI8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C149%2C0%2C149&height=700" id="9de6a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ee66520d470b26f5c055eaef0b95ec06" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="An aerial view of the sacred circular monument." data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
An aerial view of the sacred circular monument.
Photo Credit: HS2<p>One of the most compelling archaeological discoveries at Wellwick Farm are the indications of a huge ceremonial circle once circumscribed by timber posts lying south of the Bronze Age burial site. Though the wooden posts have rotted away, signs of the post holes remain. It's thought to date from the Neolithic period to 5,000 years ago, according to Wood.</p><p>This circle would have had a diameter stretching 210 feet across and consisted of two rings of hundreds of posts. There would have been an entry gap to the south-west. Five posts in the very center of the circle aligned with that same gap, which, according to Wood, appeared to have been in the direction of the rising sun on the day of the midwinter solstice. </p><p>Similar Neolithic timber circles have been discovered around Great Britain, such as one near <a href="https://bigthink.com/culture-religion/stonehenge-sarsens" target="_blank">Stonehenge</a> that is considered to date back to around the same time. </p>
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Research reveals a new evolutionary feature that separates humans from other primates.
- Researchers find a new feature of human evolution.
- Humans have evolved to use less water per day than other primates.
- The nose is one of the factors that allows humans to be water efficient.
A model of water turnover for humans and chimpanzees who have similar fat free mass and body water pools.
Credit: Current Biology
Being skeptical isn't just about being contrarian. It's about asking the right questions of ourselves and others to gain understanding.