Why you don’t Remember: The act of Reading Hard and Studying Bad

By Emmanuel Utibe

 Right now in UI, there is a boy talking about how the school is currently in the 9th or 10th week, and there is that girl talking about how exams are barely weeks away. A quick survey through the various libraries shows a sharp rise –yet to peak – in the population density of these reading sanctuaries. Increasingly more and more people are coming out to participate in the night ritual of reading. The end goal is so that their investment in time yields substantial returns in grades. Now while much can be said about the health repercussions of reduced sleeping hours, it turns out some students are only studying hard and not smart. That is, they are investing in low-yield efforts.

DAMN! I know your mind is revolting at this point, who is this guy, and does he know many exams I have passed by drinking morbid amounts of caffeine and putting my legs in cold water? Well, I admit to you that yes, TDB and your current study methods may have been helping you progress in your academic journey gracefully, but who says a good thing can’t get better? Well definitely not me, and I think you would be with me on this one.

So, what would a high-yield study method be, if the time-tested practice of students in UI is not it? 

Firstly, Spaced repetition as opposed to massed practice. So, Instead of reading Chem 156 over a 5-hour stretch and repeating the same thing each day for a week, here is what you should do. Read a topic on Monday for an hour, and reread it on Wednesday after reading other topics a day prior. By the end of the week, you have space for the continuous reading of each topic. Based on several research by cognitive scientists, this only provides a massive boost to memory, as opposed to the regular close-circuit reading students do. 

On the same note, you could explore the Interleaving of topics or even pages in the textbook as opposed to chronologically reading through all the topics. So, sticking to our example, instead of reading topics in the order you were taught, you pick from different angles and topics. Now, I know you must be rolling your eyes and inferring how this does not count. It may look haphazard and seem very counterintuitive but then again, research shows that while interleaving may slow down learning, it boosts the process of retention by as much as over 59% when coupled with the spaced repetition method, I identified earlier. 

The process of learning involves the creation of mental models in the mind. This is important for assimilating concepts and underlying mechanisms. A process that takes advantage of this is the use of mental clues. Mental clues like flashcards, mnemonics, memory devices, or any other stuff that is programmed to ensure frequent recall of certain information from the brain, are very helpful in the process of learning. Frequent recall helps consolidates the pathways in the brain that encodes that particular information that you are trying to understand. 

You may also want to explore failing before it actually matters. What does this mean? Personal quizzing and group brainstorming prior to the time of the exam are really helpful. For this, maximizing study groups and tutorials, and mocks may prove to be more impactful on learning than hours spent in mere rereading text. Frequent quizzing has the advantage of exposing knowledge gaps and allowing for effective studying. With this method, you could devote more time to areas of weakness. 

Teaching and trying to frequently explain the subject in your own words is another instrumental way of learning. A person can only teach what they understand. Also, questions have the potential to expose the knowledge gap in your understanding. 

Lastly, while the science around sleep is one is still expanding, it has so far been established by neuroscientists that sleep is very beneficial to the brain. Sleep is known to be useful in removing toxins and other undesirable materials that build up in the brain. Sleep also is useful when it comes to learning. During the course of sleep, neural connections and information pathways that have been built during the day are consolidated during sleep. Sleep deprivation is known to affect concentration and also produce a damping effect on the cognitive process in the mind. Aside from its effects on the mind, there are several research that shows that sleep deprivation has adverse effects on general body health. There is only a little you can study on Jaja’s bed, isn’t it? 

Aeschylus said and I quote, “memory, is the mother of all wisdom”.  In a more relatable scenario, if you do TDB and reread, a measure of study efficiency would be how much you are able to commit to long-term memory, and how much you are able to recall from memory. In all of this, the core of your studentship is study. If you commit yourself to inefficient methods, you may end up being a good reader, but a poor learner and student. 

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