Believing These Myths Can Hurt Your GPA

Myth Fact
1. Repetition alone is an effective strategy for getting information into LTM. Repetition (Type 1 rehearsal, also called maintenance rehearsal) is not an effective way to get information into LTM. Common ways of wasting study time by using maintenance rehearsal include
  • Typing up your notes or recopying them.
  • Repeating definitions word-for-word that you do not understand.
  • Rereading the text--unless you are selectively rereading sections you did not understand.
  • "Going over" notes or flashcards by merely rereading them.

Instead of using Type 1 rehearsal, you should do things that will encourage Type 2 (elaborative) rehearsal

  • Make tables, diagrams, outlines, sketches, and concept maps so that you think about the information and organize it.
  • Explain how similar concepts differ from each other.
  • Make up concrete examples of the concepts you are learning.
  • Make or find an analogy (e.g., thinking about long term memory as a library) that can help you understand and thus encode the information.
  • Think CORE: Connect (information to your personal experience or to other things you know), Organize, Recode (into a meaningful or visual form), and Effort (no effort, no encoding)
  • Make the information relevant to you or to your future self.
2. Cramming is effective. Spreading out your studying (spreading out your studying is called distributed practice) is much more effective than cramming (cramming is called massed practice), especially for (a) complex information and (b) long term retention. So, cramming might help you on a quiz, but it will get you in trouble if you need to know the information for the final exam, for a later course, or for your future career.
3. Highlighting your text is an effective memory strategy. Passive strategies are not effective.  Memorizing involves thinking--not mindlessly coloring your book with a highlighter. So, stop highlighting.* Instead, take notes on your book that engage you in a conversation/argument with the author, such as notes starting with "What you mean is _____,"  "I disagree with you because ______," "But earlier you said ____," "The main point is _____", and "Would ____ also be an example of _____?"  The key is not to copy material from the text (that's just highlighting the hard way) but to reflect and then write.  So, if you are writing something about a paragraph before you have finished that paragraph, stop, finish reading the paragraph, and then, if you can justify doing so, write your note. 
*If you can't break the habit of highlighting, commit to (1) highlighting only important points (or going back later with a different color highlighter to highlight the important points) and (2) going back and reviewing what you highlighted, either by trying to reconstruct the rest of the page from your highlighting or by writing notes based on what you highlighted.
4. It is wasteful to skim a chapter before reading it. Before reading a chapter, you should figure out how that chapter is organized, what the main ideas are, and what you will learn by reading it. So, to  preview the chapter, read the chapter outline (if there is one), read the chapter's introduction, look at the major headings, and read the chapter summary. These "pre-reading/ previewing" activities will help you in three ways. First, previewing the chapter makes it more likely that you will engage in elaborative rehearsal when you read the chapter because you will be more able to make the material meaningful and you will be more likely to access relevant knowledge you already have that you can connect to the text's information.  Second, previewing the chapter to see how the chapter is organized makes it more likely that you will organize what you read.  Organizing what you read--by storing connected chunks of information rather than many isolated bits of information and by having cues that will help you retrieve that connected information--will help you recall that information. Third, previewing the chapter, by giving you the big picture, should make it easier for you to figure out which information is important and must be memorized  (e.g., a main point) and which information is less important or capable of being reconstructed (e.g., a second example of the same point). 
5. Testing yourself over the material before the exam is a bad idea. Testing yourself over the material is the most effective way to learn the material. Research shows that testing yourself, if you answer yourself aloud or in writing, is about 6 times more effective than re-reading and that students' grades are positively correlated with how much they recite.
6. "Don't try to understand it, just memorize it." Understanding information makes information easier to remember. (It is hard to remember "S
hortt ermm emo ryih ol dsev  nks " until you see it as "Short term memory holds seven chunks.")
7. "You have to memorize everything word for word."
  • Only memorize what you can't reconstruct: If asked to remember what will happen when you go to a restaurant, you would not spend time memorizing facts that you could reconstruct (e.g., that the restaurant had tables, chairs, and menus). Instead, you would focus on things you couldn't reconstruct (e.g., the waiter broke a glass). Similarly, if you were asked to memorize "2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22 24 26 28 30," you would just memorize a rule that would allow you to reconstruct the series ("even numbers between 2 and 30") rather than memorizing each individual number. So, be like a good student who spends most of their effort figuring out what the main principles are that will allow them to reconstruct most of the examples rather than being like the hard-working but unsuccessful student who sees everything as equally important and may end up memorizing supporting details and examples instead of memorizing main points.
  • Being able to replay, like a video recorder, word-for-word what was said  in class--a perfect episodic memory about what happened, when it happened, and where it happened--might still result in a failing test score. You need to have semantic memories of the concepts covered. These semantic memories will probably not be word-for-word memories and will not be associated with when you learned the concept, where you learned the concept, or, indeed, with any specific event. Instead, those semantic memories of concepts will be associated with related concepts.
  • Creating an example of a concept that you can visualize (a mental youTube of the concept) will be more memorable and useful than memorizing the exact wording of an abstract definition. Indeed, a vivid, specific example is worth 1000 definitions.


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