LEARNING HACK #10: Guessing the answer is better than reading it

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.

Trying to solve a problem before being shown the answer, even if that type of problem has never been addressed before, is more effective than looking the answer up straight away.

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Trying to solve a problem before being shown the answer, even if that type of problem has never been addressed before, is more effective than looking the answer up straight away.

THIS IS TRUE.

It’s awkward. It’s uncomfortable. We’ll probably even get the answer wrong. So it’s natural to want to read up on a topic before being asked any questions on it. How can we answer a question that we have never seen the answer to?

The process of struggling to answer a question before that topic has been learned is known as generation. Sometimes, when something feels difficult or unnatural it can actually help us remember it. By being forced to find a solution before we know the answer we are actively engaging with the problem, using our logic to come to a conclusion rather than relying on a nicely phrased textbook response. Next time we confront the problem or solution we are more likely to remember it.

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

  1. Unsuccessful Retrieval Attempts Enhance Subsequent Learning
  2. The Generation Game: Why the best learners make the most mistakes

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 #9: Improve your memory, by drawing?

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.

Doodling and drawing pictures to help link ideas is a waste of time. You are better off making and going over structured notes.

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Doodling and drawing pictures to help link ideas is a waste of time. You are better off making and going over structured notes.

THIS IS FALSE.

When learning we often want to get to the end goal as quickly as possible, so we re-read and highlight as a means of making us feel confident in a topic. It takes time to visceralise material (to link material to a sensory, emotional or autobiographical moment) and so we avoid doing it.

Taking the time to link a topic to a rich sensory, emotional or autobiographical input acts to deepen the memory and will, therefore, make you more likely to remember the information in an exam.

By coming up with your own visceral analogies, you embed that topic deep into your memory. For example, my Physics teacher tells me that the refraction of light is the change in speed and direction of light as it passes from one medium into a medium of higher or lower density. Those words may go in one ear and out the other. However, if I then think of the ray of light as me on a quad bike a few summers ago, I can make the definition personally relatable. As I’m riding my quad bike on smooth tarmac road I suddenly drive off into thick, dense mud. Hitting the mud makes my quad bike “refract” inwards. Now I will permanently remember what refraction is.

(Image Credit)

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

  1. How to Study Effectively with Flash Cards
  2. The drawing effect: Evidence for reliable and robust memory benefits in free recall
  3. How to study using.. elaboration

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 #8: How to never forget

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.

To retain information well it’s better to learn a topic consistently and then leave it, than it is to learn a topic and come back to it once you have started to forget it a bit.

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To retain information well it’s better to learn a topic consistently and then leave it, than it is to learn a topic and come back to it once you have started to forget it a bit. 

THIS IS FALSE.

Exams are just a few months away (sorry, but it’s true). If you feel like you’re behind all hope is not lost. This learning hack is for those of you who feel like you want to pick up your game but are worried that you’re starting too late. As an added bonus, it will also help you remember information beyond your exam.

While going over a topic again and again in a concentrated period of time might allow us to reproduce material, it does not embed it effectively into our long-term memory. The best way to really let that information sink in and take hold is by being tested on it at increasingly longer intervals. We call this spaced repetition. Spaced repetition means that just as you are starting to forget a topic you will be tested on it, forcing the brain to search for the answer. The effort exerted cements the knowledge in the brain, letting students retain information instead of it slipping away after the exam has been taken.

Think of it like this: holding knowledge in your brain is like carrying a bucket of water. Imagine you and your friend are carrying buckets of water. You’re carrying the buckets to a nearby village, but both buckets have a small hole. You notice that water is starting to seep out of your bucket, but, luckily, not enough is seeping out to stop you from reaching the village with enough water. Your friend has the same problem, but as the water starts to seep out, they decide to patch up the hole. Next time the water starts to seep out of the hole it does so more slowly. So your friend patches it up further.

The next day you go back to the well to get some more water. The hole in your bucket is worse for wear and the water gushes out. Your friend, however, is well on their way to the next village, laughing into the sunset.

In this analogy, what you are doing is like rote learning, while what your friend is doing is like spaced repetition. At the end of the day, it’s your friend who has the last laugh because their continuous efforts to test themselves on a topic (patch up the bucket) mean that the knowledge (water) can be enjoyed well beyond the exam.

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

  1. The Most Powerful Way to Remember What You Study (Video)
  2. Learning by Spaced Repetition

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

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LEARNING HACK #7: The big picture is as important as the details

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.

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

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

THIS IS TRUE.

It’s like when you’re little and your Mum or Dad tries to make you wear your coat outside even though you really don’t want to. You question them on this and all they reply is ‘because I said so’. Explaining that you need to wear your coat because it’s cold outside and your coat will help keep you warm gives the situation a context, making the instruction easier to understand.

Just as wearing a coat requires an explanation, so to do the topics you are learning. Jumping to the content before understanding why that content is important and how it connects to the world around it is a mistake. It has also been proven that people learn better when they understand why first. When you know ‘why’ you naturally prime your brain to receive the ‘how’ and the ‘what’.

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

  1. Start with Why – Simon Sinek (TED)
  2. Inverting the Curriculum: Ariel Diaz

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 #6: Make yourself uncomfortable

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

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

THIS IS TRUE.

Research now shows that we learn better when we mix it up. Moving between different topics rapidly forces us to draw distinctions between them, which is vital to applying knowledge in a broader context.

Our intuition leads us to revise one topic for an extended period of time before we move on. But, as these myths have shown so far, our intuition is often misguided. It feels much easier to study one topic continuously, but in the long-term we won’t be able to apply our knowledge as effectively as if we swap between topics regularly.

This is an example of desirable difficulty. At first it is awkward and challenging to move between topics, but this difficulty is desirable because it makes our motor and cognitive skills better in the long-term.

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

  1. Study Strategies: Interleaving
  2. Robert Bjork – The benefits of interleaving practice
  3. Why interleaving enhances inductive learning: the role of discrimination and retrieval

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

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LEARNING HACK #5: Throw out your highlighters

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

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

THIS IS FALSE.

Actually, re-reading and highlighting information may make us feel super confident, but all we really achieve is that we add information to our short-term memories. If we were tested in a few days time, we wouldn’t remember most of it. We become familiar with the material while we are re-reading, which means that we think we know it, but in fact we have not mastered the subject at all.

This is called illusions of knowing. An example would be that you have read ten pages of a book, but when you are tested on it you cannot recall what you’ve just read. If you were to re-read those ten pages you may recognise the content because it is familiar, letting yourself believe that you know it when in reality you don’t.

How, then, do we master a subject? By Retrieval Practice: testing ourselves on information that we are learning.

Although it may seem stupid to test ourselves on topics that we don’t yet feel 100% comfortable with, the effort exerted by the brain while we search for an answer is what embeds the material into our long-term memory. Even if we get the answer wrong, we are more likely to remember it correctly the next time.

Constant testing also means that we can’t lie to ourselves. We’ve all been there – we presume we know a subject well because we’ve highlighted a passage and written notes on it, so we move onto the next topic. If we stopped and tested ourselves we would be more likely to find gaps in our knowledge that we would have to confront, not ignore.

(Image Credit)

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

  1. Active recall
  2. How to Become a Straight-A Student: The Unconventional Strategies Real College Students Use to Score High While Studying Less
  3. An introduction to Retrieval Practice by the Learning Scientists
  4. Studying through Active Recall (Video)

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 #4: Learn the wrong thing first

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.

Time should be devoted to discussing incorrect explanations.

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Time should be devoted to discussing incorrect explanations.

THIS IS TRUE.

Picture this scene: you’re at the pick n mix stand. You start filling up your bag with what you think are chocolate covered honeycomb, only they turn out to be chocolate covered raisins. You hate chocolate covered raisins. You realise your error and hurry over to the chocolate covered honeycomb, adding this to your bag.

But here’s the thing – you never tipped your chocolate covered raisins out, meaning that when you go for a piece of honeycomb you will have the added effort of dodging the raisins. Wouldn’t it make more sense to tip the chocolate covered raisins out, before adding the chocolate covered honeycomb?

Yes. Yes, it would. It is human nature to want to jump to the correct explanation as quickly as possible, but this doesn’t make room for the fact that our misconceptions are still floating about. It is essential that we spend time identifying misconceptions and then eliminating them, because this makes the necessary space in the brain for learning the correct explanation.

As with the pick n mix, if you have two different types of explanation in the brain it can lead to confusion. You may end up using the wrong explanation if you don’t overwrite it with the correct one. So, next time you’re learning something, make sure you take a moment to think about your incorrect answer, why you thought it in the first place and why it turned out to be wrong.

Addressing your misconceptions is like tipping out the chocolate covered raisins; it is only once you’ve dismissed the wrong answer (chocolate covered raisins) that your brain (pick n mix bag) can fully embrace the right answer (chocolate covered honeycomb).

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

  1. Designing Effective Multimedia for Physics Education
  2. Saying the wrong thing: improving learning with multimedia by including misconceptions

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 #3: Can gaming ever be a good addiction?

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 first and second posts in this series and read the most recent one below.

Gaming is an addiction that has a negative impact on learning.

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Gaming is an addiction that has a negative impact on learning.

THIS IS FALSE.

Wait, what? But my parents are always telling me to get off my computer, stop playing mindless games and do my homework!

While playing hours upon hours of FIFA isn’t going to get you an A*, the ideas behind gaming – like point scoring, competing with others and rewards – genuinely make it more fun and therefore increase the likelihood of us coming back for more learning and successfully improving our grade.

(Image Credit)

If you can implement gaming into the way you study, or use tools that have this built in, you might find yourself getting addicted to learning! That’s an addiction with a side-effect of better grades… Count me in.

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

  1. Gamification and student motivation
  2. Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products

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 #2: Learning styles – helpful or harmful?

Over the next few weeks we will be posting a series of learning hacks that will force you to confront what you do and don’t know about how to learn. A lot of research into learning techniques has been done over the years. Interestingly, many of the conclusions that studies have drawn are taking time to filter into mainstream thought, because often they go against the beliefs that we have held for decades upon decades. We want to get rid of the blinkers and give you a chance to uncover the key principles of current research into learning.

This is the second post in the series, so feel free to check out the first too.

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.

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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.

THIS IS FALSE.

That we all learn best in different ways has established itself as the go-to rule: even 85% of teachers believe it to be true. Unfortunately, there’s next to nothing to back up this idea and, in fact, the past 40 years of research have only shown evidence that disproves it.

It may hold us back to go on thinking that we can only study in one particular way. We may prefer visual materials to auditory materials, or vice versa, but there is no evidence that we learn more effectively when learning in our preferred style. In fact, there is evidence to show that everyone learns better when more senses are engaged, which means not limiting yourself to just one style.

As explained in a QZ article (link below),

The assumption behind learning myths seems to be based on the scientific fact that different regions of the cortex have different roles in visual, auditory, and sensory processing, and so students should learn differently “according to which part of their brain works better.” However, writes Howard-Jones, “the brain’s interconnectivity makes such an assumption unsound.”

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

  1. Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence
  2. The concept of different “learning styles” is one of the greatest neuroscience myths
  3. How to Talk About Learning Styles

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 #1: Intelligence – nature or nurture?

A huge amount of research has gone into clarifying how we learn best. How can we make sure that information doesn’t just go in one ear and out the other? How do we get knowledge to stick, rather than slip away over time? The answers that research points to are almost always different to what our intuition leads us to believe.

We want to clear things up for you. We’re guessing that you want to learn as effectively as you possibly can, right? So, over the next few weeks we will be posting a series of blog posts that will challenge your assumptions on learning. Each post will ask you a True or False question that focuses on one aspect of learning, so that by the end of this series you will have gathered all the key principles.

Ready to bust some serious learning myths? Look no further, our first one is just below:

Research has shown that intelligence is fixed at birth. Although studying can go some way in improving our brainpower, it is unlikely that this will have a dramatic effect.

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Research has shown that intelligence is fixed at birth. Although studying can go some way in improving our brainpower, it is unlikely that this will have a dramatic effect.

THIS IS FALSE.

While some of us may naturally be better at certain subjects, through deliberate practice our abilities can be drastically increased.

In fact, studies have even shown that just knowing that intelligence is malleable has a positive impact on academic achievement. What this means is that if you’re reading this, you have already increased your likelihood of success!

This idea is what we call the growth mindset: a hunger for learning that sees mistakes as opportunity for improvement, not indication of failure.

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

  1. Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential 
  2. How To Help Every Child Fulfil Their Potential 
  3. A social-cognitive approach to motivation and personality

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!