How to Remember Stuff Part 1

Cognitive psychology is pretty unanimous about the importance of nerding it up to learn. Much like the key to success for a healthy body is exercise and eating right (fruits, vegetables, and/or not soda), learning is amped up by unexciting means.

First, as every student knows, cramming is a mixed blessing. However, as every student knows, cramming can also work miracles – in the short-term only. In cognitive psychology, “cramming” is given the boring designation “massed practice.” Massed practice pays off in the short-term, but weeks, months, and years later that information is lost. Like a whacky bargain with a devious genie, where your every wish somehow backfires on you to teach you a lesson: you get a decent grade now, at the expense of later having no knowledge to show for thousands and thousands of dollars’ worth of education. - Different Psychology

As with health, the key to remembering in the short and long-term is to be responsible: study at moderate levels at different times throughout the week. This allows you to approach material with a different perspective each time you study, while simultaneously re-activating the stuff you already learned. (“But I don’t have to keep studying because I always remember things I learn the first time.” Ohhhh. Right. No you don’t. I will tame your hubris with this 49 page article on metamemory.

Second, rather than just reading a sentence over and over and trying to remember exactly what it says or coming up with inane ways to remember something (“Serotonin… rhymes with phonin’! GOT IT!”), it’s better to get the gist (actually the technical term!) and process it at a deeper level. In the levels of processing theory of learning, deep rather than shallow, processing leads to better understanding and memory. This means learning the gist of a concept, rather than the verbatim sentence, thinking about its connections to other concepts, applying the gist to parts of your own life, etc.

So if you’re in an English class and your pedantic professor is trying to justify their idiosyncratic (and irrational) hatred of the misuse of “irony,” rather than thinking shallowly (e.g., “Irony. Irony… firony… mirony! IRONY FIRONY MIRONY!”) you could think “Irony… basically the opposite of what should be… Irony is kind of like sarcasm.

What are some examples that I can relate to in my own life…?” We’ll help! - Different Psychology

Those are but two dull ways that psychological science has shown to have huge impacts on learning and retention. Something more interesting: chewing gum during studying may help you remember more while chewing gum during the test. But then again, it may make you dumber. Or it may be a bit of both. Science…

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ABD, Psychology.

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