Brain Science Study Tips For Retaining Information
Brain science study tips can help you retain more of what you learn by simply making a few adjustments here and there to what you’re currently doing. (Unless, of course, you’re doing nothing.) By making tweaks to how you approach a problem, you can “work smarter, not harder” and prepare for chapter exams or standardized tests without hating life. Here are some science-based facts concerning the way we study that you might find surprising. As you read through these suggestions, consider incorporating one or more into your preparation routine, and watch your scores start to climb.
Study when you’re tired.
You have to be very careful when hitting the books around sleep time. Critics of this school of thought believe that a study-brain is an engaged brain, and if you try to study before bed, it’ll just keep you up and make it harder to get up in the morning. Others believe that you won’t be able to get as much out of your study time because you are too tired to focus. Still others feel that studying before bed will train your brain into associating studies with sleepiness. What we know about brain science, however, indicates that studying before bed isn’t such a bad idea provided that you still have enough alertness to make sense out of things. When you sleep, your brain is able to work through difficult concepts and commit challenging schools of thought to long-term memory. Looking over something that you’re having difficulty understanding 30 minutes to an hour before your head hits the pillow can work wonders for your overall understanding.
Space out your studies.
When I was in high school, one of the most difficult subjects I faced was science. My mind wasn’t cut out for it. I was an English guy. I could read 100 pages of a good book and tell you every last thing that happened, but if I had to read 500 words of something scientific, I could struggle with it for hours. The only way that I was able to do a good enough job to maintain A’s and B’s was to break the content down into very small chunks and spread it out over time. It may have meant a dozen study sessions in a day — one devoted to learning vocabulary words, another devoted to the scientific method, another to the architecture of cells — but eventually I got it. Staring down the barrel of a continuous three-hour study session would have led to frustration, which would have led to me giving up. I still hate science, but at least I got through. By breaking down difficult material into several shorter sessions, you can handle pretty much anything that school throws your way.
You’ll find that whether you’re studying for an exam or smack dab in the middle of your career, movement improves the quality of your work. It’s too easy to sit in front of a computer or a textbook all day as your butt starts to fall asleep. Unfortunately, it also stagnates your brain and frustrates you into doing a lot of things that just aren’t important — texting back friends, checking your social media pages or email, etc. Whenever you feel your mind start to slip from the subject at hand, you need to get up from where you are sitting and take a short walk. It could be across campus, to the nearest McDonald’s, or simply a pacing session across the floor in your room. Any movement will improve circulation and get your brain refocused on what needs to be done.
Write it out by hand.
Whenever your hand writes something down, you’re creating a connection that’s deeper than the simple act of reading. That’s because you’re taking in the information, breaking it down and reconfiguring it, then solidifying it by forming a tactile connection between your hand and the blank page. In other words, you’re deconstructing basic information and then reconstructing it in a way that is easier for your mind to internalize. By slowing down your thoughts, you’re able to reformulate basic data — even the challenging parts — into a format that is tailormade to your specific learning style. And if you don’t like the clutter of pen and notebook paper, you can get the same exact effect out of a tablet, stylus, and well-engineered note-taking platform. We highly recommend Penultimate, a free notebook app that ties directly into Evernote for access on all your devices.
This is similar to writing out information by hand in that it creates multiple points of access to the information you’re supposed to be learning. First, you see it with your eyes. Next, you process it with your brain. Finally, you push the words back out into the world through your own voice, essentially getting three coats of a piece of knowledge before moving on to the next in the string. Reading aloud can also help you slow down your brain long enough to latch on to ideas that might otherwise be lost in the translation from the written word to your brain. There’s a reason why, when it comes to writing, the pros always say to read everything aloud. It’s an extra piece of scrutiny that results in a much cleaner and easier to read piece of writing. No matter what the subject is, the principle is the same.
If you have a lot of ground to cover before test day, another tactic that you should employ is that of the Shuffle. Just move freely from one subject to the next without spending too long on any one area. This technique constantly keeps your brain on its toes instead of allowing it to get bored and give up. In order to make this technique more palatable, don’t spend longer than 30 minutes on any one subject. Use a timer, and when you hear the buzzer, move on to a completely different subject. Rinse and repeat as much as you can before test day. One final note on this entry: we understand that some concepts are so difficult and time is so limited that you can’t afford to study four subjects in a given day. For that, we say you repurpose the tactic by breaking the information within a given subject into like groups (i.e. vocabulary, problem solving, scientific concepts, etc). From within one subject, move from one subgroup to the next in a similar timed format. The main thing is to not study something that is too similar to what’s come immediately before it, hour after hour.
You can hide from it for only so long. Eventually someone is going to stand up and make you test your knowledge to prove proficiency. It’s a lot harder to pass that test if you are unfamiliar with the conditions. Rather than limiting yourself to the reading of a chapter and the review of classroom notes, take some time to practice before the moment of truth. Get your hands on some practice exams like the freebies that we offer here at 4Tests. Partition yourself off in a quiet place where you know that you’ll be free from interruptions. Again, use a timer, and recreate the exact environment and conditions of the test to the best of your abilities. Do this, and exam day will come as much less of a shock.
Your brain is a very complex instrument, and when it comes to studies, it’s the only weapon you have in the fight against ignorance. By understanding how it accepts and interprets information, you can use your intelligence, circumstance, and proven techniques to get the most out of each session. By understanding the usefulness of these brain science study tips, you can start incorporating them in your own routines to maximum effect.