Many of the fundamental learning strategies that students consider tried and true make no significant impact on memory retention. Cognitive scientist, Henry Roediger, explains some of these common mistakes:
1. Rapid Fire Repetition
“People commonly believe that if you expose yourself to something enough times you can burn it into your memory,” explains Roediger in Make It Stick, ”Not so.” While it can appear effective, this type of learning doesn’t stick, but melts away quickly and is no longer useful down the road. Students retain more information by taking key concepts and explaining them in their own words.
Roediger says, “Doing multiple readings in close succession is a time-consuming study strategy that yields negligible benefits at the expense of much more effective strategies that take less time.” Rereading essentially creates a false sense of mastery with increasing familiarity. However, this familiarity is not an indication of true understanding and often goes in one ear and quickly out the other. Students can use their time wisely by administering self-quizzes to identify what they don’t know and distilling underlying principles to those concepts.
3. Singular Focus and Intentionality
In the past, it was accepted that if you concentrate on one thing hard enough, you’ll remember it forever. As humans, we are drawn to what feels easy and productive, but that isn’t what creates retrievable and useful knowledge. Roediger says, “Skill is better acquired through interleaved and varied practice than massed practice.”