Need to learn a lot of material fast and perform well when it counts? Two new studies suggest easy ways to speed up learning and ease anxiety before a test.
A simple recall drill may be the best way to solidify new information in your memory, according to a study published online January 20 in Science. Many teachers encourage students to use elaborate conceptual methods to learn complicated material, but psychologists at Purdue University found that practice at retrieving facts works better. College students who read short science texts and then spent 20 minutes recalling as much as possible by writing down what they had read performed about 50 percent better on tests the next week than did students who drew complex maps depicting relations between concepts. The authors say that the act of reconstructing knowledge enhances learning and strengthens memories. Put simply, practice makes perfect.
But sometimes all that studying is for naught when a test or a big performance rolls around and you choke. It turns out that focusing on your worries by writing about them before a test can boost your scores, according to a different paper published in January in Science. Psychologists at the University of Chicago found that college students who first wrote about their thoughts and feelings about an upcoming math exam for 10 minutes solved more arithmetic problems than did students who sat quietly. And the writing task improved the scores of highly anxious ninth graders so much that they performed as well as students with low anxiety on a biology final exam. The authors say that the technique may be most useful for habitual worriers in high-pressure situations.