The moon landing: 50 years

It’s been 50 years since Apollo 11. The mission? To put the first man on the moon. Those men were Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, and they spent years preparing for the moon landing. 

When the astronauts reached the moon, they collected 20 kg of rocks to discover what it is made of. Mostly, scientists have discovered that the moon is 45% oxygen and 21% silicon, combined with metals like aluminium and iron. They also used isotopic dating to discover that the moon’s surface began to harden 4.5 billion years ago! 

However, there are still many things about the moon that we don’t understand.

This story is related to the Inorganic Chemistry section of the Chemistry A Level course

For more on this story, check out this article.

The mineral composition and geology of the surface of the moon (it isn't made of cheese).
The mineral composition and geology of the surface of the moon (it isn’t made of cheese). Prof Sara Russell, NHM.

The 100-hour MRI scan of the brain

Scientists just created the most vivid MRI scan of the brain ever made! Researchers did a post-mortem examination and scanned a brain for 100 hours to get detailed images of brain structiures. These scans help scientists to understand how small changes in the brain cause mental illnesses like PTSD. 

A new paper in Bio Rxiv explains that the brain was surrounded in a special casing to hold the brain still and kept air out. Then a powerful MRI scanner imaged brain structures which are usually very hard to see. These high resolution images will help researchers to study disorders like depression. 

Could you lie still for 100 hours to have your brain imaged in an MRI?

This story is related to the Methods of Studying the Brain section in the Psychology A Level course.

For more on this story, check out this article. You can find the published paper here.

A 3D MRI brain scan, with the highest resolution ever!
A 3D MRI brain scan, with the highest resolution ever! bioRxiv.org, Edlow et al.

Is There Anybody Out There?

There are no aliens on an interstellar rock flying around the solar system. This interstellar rock, called Oumuamua, is a very unusual cigar shape and caused a lot of speculation. Scientists from Harvard University thought it might be an artificial spaceship, because it accelerated as it was leaving the solar system. 

A new paper in Nature Astronomy has analysed Oumuamua and provided reasons for why it is such a weird shape and passed through our solar system. Scientists now think that it is the start of a new planet being formed!

This story is related to the Cosmology section in the Physics A Level course.

For more on this story, check out this article. You can find the published paper here.

An artist's impression of Oumuamua. [EPA].
An artist’s impression of Oumuamua. [EPA]

Learning Hacks: what you need to know

Over the past month we’ve posted a series of 16 Learning Hacks that explore some prominent myths with regards to effective learning. Before explaining each hack we asked you to respond ‘True’ or ‘False’ to a statement about learning. This post will summarise those responses, looking both at the myths that you dismissed for the shams that they are and the ones that have sunk their claws slightly deeper…

Myths that sunk


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We should stop and think about our learning and consider what could be done better. Taking the time to review our learning strategies ensures that we are on the right track.

An impressive 100% of you who answered poll #11 understood that self-evaluation is key to success. In the blog post, we explained that taking the time to reflect upon how our learning is going means that we have to be honest with ourselves about our progress. Realising this is an important first step to successful revision.

Increasing our ability to multitask means that we can work on many things at once. If we can work on many things at once then we can progress faster in all areas.

Multitasking is often heralded as a hallmark of ultra-intelligence.. if you can undertake multiple tasks at once then you are, surely, more clever? Nope. Na. Not even close. 82% of poll-takers indeed understood the ridiculousness of associating multitasking with quicker progress. When we try to multitask we actually increase the strain on our working memory and obscure the information that matters most.

You should always understand the context of why you’re learning something and how it fits into everything else before diving into the details.

It’s tempting to skip the context and dive straight to the core of the topic. By grasping the bigger picture first, however, you gain an understanding of why this topic or problem is important in the scheme of things. When you understand ‘why’ you naturally prime your brain for the ‘how’ or the ‘what’. 95% of you are big fans of context and therefore managed to bust this myth.

Myths that swum

There are different types of learners. Some people are predisposed to learning more effectively from visual material, some from auditory material and others from kinaesthetic practice. Accepting this unlocks potential.

Learning styles. Despite the fact that they have been dismissed following on from research into their validity, the idea is still attractive to teachers and students alike. This is a big myth and one that refuses to sink as it rightfully should. The fact that 91% of those that answered the poll believe that learning styles are valid – that you learn more effectively by sticking to ‘your’ style – is a testament to how far this myth has sunk its claws into our education system.

Although it is true that we may prefer a certain way of learning, as we explained in our post, there is no evidence to show that we learn better when learning in our preferred style. We actually learn best when more senses are engaged, which means not limiting yourself to just one style. This video by the Smithsonian Science Ed Center explains why learning styles are a flawed concept. Although the video is about learning science subjects, the principles apply to learning any subject.

It is important to make notes, highlight them and re-read them before attempting practice questions or quizzing yourself on a topic.

Highlighting and re-reading are two oft-used study techniques. They are the go to method for revising any topic. 64% of those who answered the poll understandably chose ‘true’, believing that before testing yourself it is essential to highlight and re-read material. As the post went on to explain, however, re-reading and highlighting may make us feel like we know information really well, but actually we are just becoming familiar with it rather than learning it. We gave the example of reading ten pages of a book, but then not being able to recall what you’ve read when you’re tested on it. If you re-read those ten pages while you may recognise the content because you’ve read it before, you won’t know it… but it’s easy to kid yourself that you do.

A better way to learn is by Retrieval Practice: testing ourselves on material even if we are still in the process of learning it. The effort exerted by the brain while we search for an answer helps to embed the information into our long-term memory. Even if we get the answer wrong, we are more likely to remember it correctly the next time.

It is more effective to move between topics than it is to focus on one topic solidly before moving onto the next.

Intuitively, we want to get really comfortable with one topic before we switch to the next. Surely it’s confusing to keep chopping and changing? 66% of answers to this poll indeed thought that it is better to stick to one topic before moving on. In fact, though, research shows that we learn better when we mix it up. This type of learning is known as interleaving. It helps our brain to make associations and draw distinctions between topics. At first it may be awkward, but this kind of difficulty is desirable because it makes our motor and cognitive skills better in the long run.

So, there you have it. If you have any questions about these techniques, then feel free to message us.

What is Up Learn? Up Learn uses artificial intelligence and research from cognitive science to help students achieve A* results. Find out more.

LEARNING HACK #16: Don’t cheat yourself

This post is part of a series challenging our assumptions about learning techniques. We’re asking you True or False questions to see what you do and don’t know about how to learn effectively, as well as giving you up to date information from current research into learning. This is the final post in the series, so make sure to check out the previous 15 learning hacks too.

It is better to look at the correct answer straight after answering a question, rather than after completing the entire paper.

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It is better to look at the correct answer straight after answering a question, rather than after completing the entire paper.

THIS IS FALSE.

We all feel the pull to the biscuit tin as it approaches tea-time, just as we all have an itch to check the mark scheme immediately after answering a question.There is no point being tested if the correct answers are never provided, but it is even more effective to provide these answers slightly delayed as opposed to right away.

By preventing ourselves from looking at the answers until the end of the paper we not only simulate a more realistic exam environment, we also force ourselves to answer questions independently without the need for reinforcement from correct answers.

Want to read more on this topic? Check out these links:

  1. Test format and corrective feedback modify the effect of testing on long-term retention
  2. Feedback enhances the positive effects and reduces the negative effects of multiple-choice testing

What is Up Learn? Up Learn uses artificial intelligence and research from cognitive science to help students achieve A* results. Find out more.

We’re releasing a new learning hack every 2 days. Like our Facebook page to be notified!

LEARNING HACK #15: Repeat until you reach 100%

This post is part of a series challenging our assumptions about learning techniques. We’re asking you True or False questions to see what you do and don’t know about how to learn effectively, as well as giving you up to date information from current research into learning. Check out the previous post in this series and read the most recent one below.

Spending a certain amount of time on a topic will guarantee that you attain a certain grade. There is a base level amount of time that we all need to spend on any topic in order to learn it effectively.

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Spending a certain amount of time on a topic will guarantee that you attain a certain grade. There is a base level amount of time that we all need to spend on any topic in order to learn it effectively.

THIS IS FALSE.

We are drawn to thinking that practice makes perfect and that spending a certain amount of time learning something will get everyone in the class to the same level.

An alternative to this idea is known as Mastery. Mastery means that a student must ‘master’ a topic, i.e. achieve 90% or more in a test, before moving onto the next. In the 1960s, a famous education researcher called Benjamin Bloom compared students in a conventional classroom to those in a mastery learning classroom and found that the average student in the mastery class was above 84% of students in the conventional class.

Mastery means that a student won’t be judged by how long they need to spend on a topic. Eventually, all students will achieve the same level of learning, but, understandably, some may take longer than others.

Want to read more on this topic? Check out these links:

  1. Mastery learning (Wikipedia)
  2. The 2 Sigma Problem: The Search for Methods of Group Instruction as Effective as One-to-One Tutoring

What is Up Learn? Up Learn uses artificial intelligence and research from cognitive science to help students achieve A* results. Find out more.

We’re releasing a new learning hack every 2 days. Like our Facebook page to be notified!

LEARNING HACK #14: Cut out all distractions

This post is part of a series challenging our assumptions about learning techniques. We’re asking you True or False questions to see what you do and don’t know about how to learn effectively, as well as giving you up to date information from current research into learning. Check out the previous post in this series and read the most recent one below.

Increasing our ability to multitask means that we can work on many things at once. If we can work on many things at once then we can progress faster in all areas.

What do you think?

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Increasing our ability to multitask means that we can work on many things at once. If we can work on many things at once then we can progress faster in all areas.

THIS IS FALSE.

It’s like playing a piece on the piano while painting a picture. Both require the full attention of your hands. To play the piano piece and paint a picture simultaneously means doing both less well than if you were to concentrate solely on one or the other.

In this analogy your hands represent your brain. We presume that if we set our brain to task on more than one thing at a time that we will achieve more, but actually this would compromise how well the brain copes with each task.

The truth is that multitasking is highly ineffective. Multitasking puts a strain on our working memory and clouds our view of the information that really matters. Textbooks may include little quips or extra information in order to engage us, but sometimes this actually takes up space in our working memory and prevents us from focusing on the core concepts. It is therefore important to maintain a careful balance between adding information that will engage us and adding too much unnecessary information that it distracts us. Achieving this balance is vital to effective learning.

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Want to read more on this topic? Check out these links:

  1. Nine Ways to Reduce Cognitive Load in Multimedia Learning
  2. The Myth of Multitasking

What is Up Learn? Up Learn uses artificial intelligence and research from cognitive science to help students achieve A* results. Find out more.

We’re releasing a new learning hack every 2 days. Like our Facebook page to be notified!

LEARNING HACK #13: Work smart, rather than hard

This post is part of a series challenging our assumptions about learning techniques. We’re asking you True or False questions to see what you do and don’t know about how to learn effectively, as well as giving you up to date information from current research into learning. Check out the previous post in this series and read the most recent one below.

It is possible to put in 20% of the work and still get 80%+ of the results.

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It is possible to put in 20% of the work and still get 80%+ of the results.

THIS IS TRUE.

Work smart, then work hard. As we’ve established so far, working hard and putting in effort is vital to academic success. Nevertheless, the Pareto Principle informs us that it is possible to achieve an ’80:20 rule’ by focusing on being effective first.

Person A takes 10 steps to learn something. Person B takes 10 steps to learn something. At face value, these people are learning at the same speed. However, because Person B is working smart as well as working hard, those 10 steps go much further. Person A is learning ineffectively, so those 10 steps will need to repeated over and over to retain the level that Person B achieved first time round.

Want to read more on this topic? Check out these links:

  1. How to Learn a New Skill Quickly: A 4-Step Process (Video)
  2. Pareto principle (Wikipedia)
  3. Understanding the 80/20 rule

What is Up Learn? Up Learn uses artificial intelligence and research from cognitive science to help students achieve A* results. Find out more.

We’re releasing a new learning hack every 2 days. Like our Facebook page to be notified!

LEARNING HACK #12: Skip the easy things

This post is part of a series challenging our assumptions about learning techniques. We’re asking you True or False questions to see what you do and don’t know about how to learn effectively, as well as giving you up to date information from current research into learning. Check out the previous post in this series and read the most recent one below.

When something feels hard to learn, it means we’re not learning it well.

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When something feels hard to learn, it means we’re not learning it well.

THIS IS FALSE.

When we find learning easy we presume that we are sailing through, understanding everything and therefore learning it all well. This has been proven to be a falsehood. In fact, effortful learning is more durable because the difficulty increases our ability to remember.

To clarify, effortful learning means taking the time to learn properly. Some of the most effective learning techniques – such as visceralisation or spaced repetition – slow us down and so they make us think that we’re getting behind, when actually the effort we have put in means that the information is being drilled into our memory more effectively.

Want to read more on this topic? Check out these links:

  1. Robert Bjork – Desirable Difficulties (Video)
  2. Desirable difficulty – Wikipedia page

What is Up Learn? Up Learn uses artificial intelligence and research from cognitive science to help students achieve A* results. Find out more.

We’re releasing a new learning hack every 2 days. Like our Facebook page to be notified!

LEARNING HACK #11: Self-evaluation is key to success

This post is part of a series challenging our assumptions about learning techniques. We’re asking you True or False questions to see what you do and don’t know about how to learn effectively, as well as giving you up to date information from current research into learning. Check out the previous post in this series and read the most recent one below.

We should stop and think about our learning and consider what could be done better. Taking the time to review our learning strategies ensures that we are on the right track.

What do you think?

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We should stop and think about our learning and consider what could be done better. Taking the time to review our learning strategies ensures that we are on the right track.

THIS IS TRUE.

It’s 11am and you’ve gone for a run in your local park. You are meeting your friend at 11.30am, at the café on the other side of the park. There’s a route that takes exactly half an hour and would lead you directly to the café.

Not stopping to reflect on your learning and the direction it is taking would be like running for 30 minutes without checking that you are on the path that will lead you to the café. If you aren’t going to get to your end destination when you need to, your effort will be wasted.

If we take the time to reflect on our learning we can check that we are on the right track and find room for improvement. Research has proven that we often overestimate our own competence, so to reflect honestly is a key component of efficient learning and will save massive amounts of time in the long run.

Want to read more on this topic? Check out these links:

  1. Self-Regulated Learning: Beliefs, Techniques, and Illusions
  2. Why we overestimate our competence

What is Up Learn? Up Learn uses artificial intelligence and research from cognitive science to help students achieve A* results. Find out more.

We’re releasing a new learning hack every 2 days. Like our Facebook page to be notified!