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3 tips on how to study effectively

Learn how to study correctly

By Fiory MoPublished 2 months ago 3 min read

During the rigorous training period, medical residents are inundated with a plethora of techniques, surgical procedures, and lifesaving methodologies. The ability to retain and recall these skills isn't just advantageous—it can be a critical determinant of life or death scenarios. In a pivotal 2006 research study, a cohort of surgical residents undergoing instruction in suturing arteries was divided into two groups. Both groups were provided identical study materials, yet one group implemented a subtle alteration in their study approach. Remarkably, when assessed one month later, this group exhibited significantly superior performance in executing the surgeries compared to their counterparts. Unraveling the secret to this group's success unveils invaluable insights into effective study techniques applicable both within and beyond the confines of the classroom.

To comprehend the efficacy of these methods, it's imperative to delve into the mechanisms underlying how the brain assimilates and retains information. Imagine attempting to memorize the intricate anatomy of the heart. Upon encountering a novel concept, the brain temporarily encodes the memory in clusters of neurons within the hippocampus. Subsequent exposure to the workings of the heart, whether through classroom instruction or exam preparation, triggers the reactivation of these neurons. This recurrent stimulation fortifies the synaptic connections among the cells, thereby stabilizing the memory. Over time, this knowledge of heart anatomy transitions into long-term storage, facilitated by the engagement of another brain region, the neocortex. The precise mechanism governing the transfer of information from short-term to long-term memory remains elusive, though it's believed to occur during intervals between study sessions, and notably, during periods of restorative sleep.

However, the learning process doesn't culminate once information is consigned to long-term memory. Each subsequent retrieval of this knowledge reactivates the memory, rendering it susceptible to modification. This iterative process allows for the updating, reinforcement, and integration of new information with existing knowledge frameworks. Herein lies the essence of our first study technique: self-testing through flashcards and quizzes. By actively retrieving information, learners not only reinforce existing memories but also facilitate the updating and strengthening of these memories. Despite the preference among students for passive study methods like textbook rereading or note highlighting, such practices often foster a false sense of mastery, as the information remains readily accessible. In contrast, self-testing offers a more accurate assessment of one's comprehension and retention.

Moreover, embracing mistakes as integral components of the learning process can yield long-term benefits. The act of grappling with erroneous responses activates relevant cognitive pathways, priming the brain for the assimilation of correct information upon subsequent exposure. This dovetails with our second technique: interleaving. By interspersing study sessions with diverse subjects or topics, learners challenge their brains to repeatedly retrieve and recontextualize information. This cyclic process not only enhances memory retention but also fosters the identification of interconnections across disparate subjects, facilitating a deeper understanding of their nuances.

Lastly, the timing of study sessions bears profound implications for long-term retention. Spacing out review sessions over multiple days allows for periods of rest and consolidation, during which the brain actively integrates new knowledge with preexisting schemas. While cramming may yield short-term recall benefits, the information is less likely to endure in long-term memory. Returning to the case of medical residents, both groups invested equivalent durations in studying the surgical procedures. However, the group that distributed their training over four weeks outperformed their counterparts who condensed the training into a single day.

In essence, these study techniques are predicated on an understanding of the brain's cognitive architecture. By aligning with the brain's innate processes of encoding, retrieval, and consolidation, these strategies optimize learning outcomes. They complement and reinforce the brain's remarkable capacity to navigate and assimilate the deluge of information it encounters, day after day.

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