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.

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.

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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.

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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!

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.

(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!