Study Tip: Making Rehearsal Work for You

Exams are creeping up on some of you. Time to get studying. When you review for an exam, you’re almost certainly going to rehearse the material you learned, which means repeating the information in order to more securely store it in your memory. This makes sure that what you need to know is easy to remember come exam time.

However, don’t think about rehearsal too simply; psychologists often talk about two distinct types of it. Maintenance rehearsal is when you repeat something over and over without giving any meaning to the information. Let’s say you want to remember the definition of the word “axon,” which is a part of a neuron: maintenance rehearsal would involve saying “axon” over and over until you think you can remember it. This is also called rote rehearsal. It keeps information active in your mind, but it typically has limited value if you want to remember it for any significant length of time.

Elaborative rehearsal involves giving meaning to the information you’re trying to memorize. Research clearly shows that when you want to commit things to long-term memory, like when you’re studying for an exam, you need to use this kind of rehearsal. Elaborative rehearsal isn’t only repeating the piece of information you want to remember, but also making it associated to something else you already know. So, going back to the word “axon”: to remember its definition, you can think that an axon takes a neural impulse “away” from the neuron. “Axon” and “away” both start with the letter A. This makes everything much easier to remember.

Here’s another example of how you can use elaboration to improve your memory. Let’s say that you want to remember the names of all five Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior. You could repeat the five names over and over (rote rehearsal) or you can think of a more meaningful way to remember them, like forming a word from the first letter of each of the five names (this is called an acronym). This spells HOMES. Using acronyms makes it much easier to remember than five separate words!

Have you ever used elaborative rehearsal before? If “yes”, how has it helped you remember something?

Special Guest Writer–Jake Bailey: Starting College

So you’ve begin your freshman year. By now, you’ve read over your syllabi (hopefully), settled into your dorm, and have some kind of routine you follow every day. Class is already starting to pick up, and it may start seeming a little scary. I know when I was in your shoes, I was not doing so hot. Specifically on an emotional level. Everyone would give me all of these tips on time management and campus resources. They helped tons don’t get me wrong, but there are a few tips I’d like to pass down to all of you that you do not hear as often. In addition to the usual academic advice you hear a lot of, this advice is important to heed.

The first piece of advice is rather simple, but makes a significant difference: keep yourself healthy. In my first year of college, I didn’t do a great job of taking care of myself. I put 100% of my energy into my classes, and almost none into myself. I wasn’t getting enough sleep, eating right, etc. I didn’t even look like myself and my grades suffered. I know money is tight in college, but try to eat decent food even if it is a few bucks more. You’re also going to run into situations where staying up all night to finish a paper seems absolutely necessary. I don’t know about y’all, but I need my beauty sleep. Complete as much of that paper as you can, then PLEASE get some sleep. Humans aren’t meant to stay up all night. Get your hair cut. Exercise if you want. Shave regularly (not trying to sound like your parents). All of those seemingly small things really do help, and you will feel 100% better.

My second tip: find a hobby. Find something you can do with others or by yourself that relaxes you. A lot of you probably did some kind of extracurricular activity in high school. Sports, marching band, student government, volunteering, whatever it is–it’s not as easy to do in college. Luckily for you, there are tons of clubs you can join on campus. Even if you for some reason can’t find a club you like, there are many other things to do. I played club dodgeball for a couple of years and loved it. Now I’m taking boxing classes. Just find something you really like. It keeps you in a rhythm and keeps your head clear.

The last thing is a little harder than it sounds. Talk to people. I know, just starting a conversation with a complete stranger out of nowhere seems tough. But guess what? It isn’t. Crack a joke about something that just happened to the person standing in line in front of you. Get to know the people in your classes. You never know what could come out of it. You could be talking to your best friend.

I hope this helps everyone. Don’t spend too much time worrying about the future. I promise if you just buckle down in class, make friends, and do what you love, everything else will fall into place.

The Power of Flashcards

Most of you have already started the semester, and with that (for better or worse) comes the thought of future exams. Even though you probably don’t like thinking about this, you have to start preparing for exams as soon as you can. Research shows that cramming at the last minute is a bad way to learn. Don’t do it! Sometimes you’ll even have multiple exams in a day or week, so cramming makes it so you might not have time to study for each one.

One or more of your exams is likely multiple-choice. I’d like to argue that one of the best ways to study for these is to make flashcards. Although you might think that flashcards are only for primary school children learning arithmetic, researchers (including me) have conducted studies showing that flashcards are extremely effective even for college students.

Here are some brief pointers on making and using flashcards. I think writing your own flashcards is best, but some students I’ve had swear by flashcards you can make online (by using Quizlet or other sites):

1) Make flashcards after class. Typically, everything in your notes should be on a card. That means for every lecture you will have a bunch of flashcards

2) Be brief (more like the exam questions and answers).

3) Pay attention as you write or type each flashcard in order to learn the information on it.

4) When you have your flashcards ready, shuffle the flashcards each time you study, because it’s rare to be tested on information in sequential order.

5) Now you are ready to test yourself on each card in the deck.

6) As you test yourself, sort each card by whether you know or don’t know the information on it.

7) Go back over the pile with the cards you don’t know.

8) Repeat all the steps above with each new lecture. Add new flashcards to your old flashcards, and test yourself as before.

Here’s a video link that should help:
https://vimeo.com/48027675
Good luck! Do any of you already use flashcards? Have they helped you on exams?