According to a study recently published in Science, the best way to retain information is simply by testing yourself.
The report, titled "Retrieval Practice Produces More Learning than Elaborative Studying with Concept Mapping" and written by Purdue University's Jeffrey Karpicke and Janell R. Blunt, challenges the generally accepted ethos of elaborative learning -- which asks students to elaborate on material studied -- as more productive than straight retrieval.
In a press release, Karpicke explained that:
Educators, researchers and students are often focused on getting things 'in memory,' so techniques that encourage students to elaborate on the material are often popular. But learning is fundamentally about retrieving, and our research shows that practicing retrieval while you study is crucial to learning. Self-testing enriches and improves the learning process, and there needs to be more focus on using retrieval as a learning strategy.
To reach these conclusions, Karpicke asked two groups of students (200 altogether) to read several paragraphs about differing scientific topics. One group was instructed to use the information to create a concept map, while the other was told to put away their articles and spend ten minutes writing what they recalled. A week later, the students were called back and tested on the material. Those who had practiced retrieval retained 50 percent more information than those who engaged in the traditionally preferred method of concept mapping.
Harvard professor and educational progressive Howard Gardner told the New York Times that the results "throw down the gauntlet to those progressive educators, myself included...who embrace seemingly more active approaches, like concept mapping."
The researchers further found that although they ended up learning less, students who had engaged in concept mapping were more confident that they would remember the material than those in the retrieval group.
To Karpicke, this "disconnect" means that it is up to teachers and professors to encourage the most effective forms of studying.
What's your favorite way to study? Let us know in the comments section.
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