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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!