Picture this: It’s midterm week, and college students everywhere are trying to frantically memorize all of the math formulas, political theories and historical facts that they possibly can. Needless to say, most won’t be successful.
“Cramming is like stuffing a cheap suitcase,” says Benedict Carey, the author of the new book “How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens.” “It stays in for a while and then it falls out.” While cramming does work in the short-term, most students forget most of the material within days.
We asked Carey for his advice on how to study more effectively.
Break things up
Let’s say you have three hours to study for a test. Carey suggests breaking up the material into three distinct parts. “It’s called spacing,” Carey explains. Studying for an hour and then taking a 15-minute break helps you retain information.
Reject creating a routine
It’s a myth that students should study at the same time and place every day. “Vary the music, the sights and the sounds around you,” urges Carey. Taking your textbooks to a cafe to study can help you remember the material better. “All of those things enrich that memory,” says Carey.
Instead of solely devoting your study time to memorizing the material, Carey says students should also make it a point to test themselves. “Let’s say you are studying a language,” says Carey. “If I give you 10 words, it’s much better to test yourself than to study them again and again.”
Remember to sleep
Most students probably suspect that all-nighters are unhealthy. Carey has the science to prove it. “Sleep is a kind of learning, too,” he says. If you feel like you absolutely need an extra few hours to review before your test, Carey says it’s better to wake up earlier and study rather than staying up well into the night.
Follow Lakshmi Gandhi on Twitter @LakshmiGandhi.