The most popular learning methods don’t work. Here’s why.

September 1, 2022

Rereading and massed practise don’t work

You have an exam in 24 hours and you’re rereading the text for the 20th time. You rigorously highlight the essential parts. You read the text again and again. You do the exercises over and over and over until you nail it every time. To finalise, you reread the text once more before you go to sleep.

But when the results are in, you’ve failed the exam. How is this possible? You almost know the text by heart and you’ve successfully done the exercises a thousand times.

It’s because rereading and massed practice (doing the same thing over and over again) create an illusion of knowing. Learners believe they have mastered the content. But in reality, they have only familiarised themselves with what the text says, not with what it means. 

So why are rereading and massed practice the preferred study method for a majority of people? Because it’s easy to learn this way.

So … what does work?

The main idea is that learning needs to be effortful. When learning is too easy, it doesn’t stick. When your brain has to work hard while studying, you remember it better. You create connections, you build mental models, you gain conceptual knowledge, etc. 

Below are 3 scientifically proven methods to make learning stick better:

1. Retrieving

Don’t blindly reread or repeat. Just because you can repeat something, it doesn’t mean you get it. Instead, test yourself regularly. Actively answering questions solidifies knowledge in your brain, even if you make mistakes.

2. Interleaving

Interleaving means studying more than one topic, skill or subject at a time. Research shows that mastery and long-term retention are much better if you interleave practise than if you mass it. You build conceptual knowledge instead of simply memorising.

3. Spacing

Spacing out your learning (not doing everything in one sitting), will make it stick better. When you space out your learning, you’ll forget things. And although it might seem counterintuitive, forgetting is part of the process. When you forget things, your brain has to work harder to retrieve the knowledge.

The mere action of retrieving knowledge makes the connections in your brain stronger.

All 3 study methods are incorporated in our UQ coach! You frequently answer questions, you can easily follow multiple training courses at once and microlearning is great to space out! No more boring, passive learning for you!

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