How can I remember what I’ve learned?

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Struggling to recall what you’re revising? Here’s how to embed the information you’re learning more effectively.

Self-test your knowledge by using retrieval practices 

Constantly rereading your notes, fanatically highlighting key formulas and having piles of flashcards might make you feel like a revision supremo, but sadly this won’t achieve much. Instead, psychologists such as Bradley Busch, director of mindset coaching company InnerDrive, recommend retrieval practices instead.

“In simple terms, this involves anything that makes you generate an answer to a question, such as quizzes or using past papers,” he explains. “If you quiz yourself on what you’re learning, it makes you think harder about that subject, therefore embedding the memory in your mind further. Rereading passages over and over gives the illusion that you’ve learned a lot, but thinking critically about what you’ve just learned will make it lodge in the brain more.” 

‘Spacing’, not cramming 

Think of this study technique as the opposite to cramming. Doing your revision little and often – i.e. ‘spacing’ it out over time in small chunks – has been proven in many studies to be much more effective than shoehorning it into a few hours.

Spacing works because it gives you more time between revision sessions to think about what you’ve learned. “Doing one hour of revision every day for a week is more effective than doing seven hours of revision in one day,” says Bradley. Footballers don’t wait until the day before a match to do their training – neither should you. 

Switch up your studying using interleaving 

Instead of dedicating a whole day to one subject (“on Monday, I’ll do indirect tax and on Tuesday I’ll tackle management accounting”), experts recommend a strategy called ‘interleaving’ instead. “Interleaving is studying topics with a break, making sure you mix up the order of topics you study,” explains Bradley.

“Try also to make links between the topics – are there any similarities or differences between subjects? Do that and it’ll create a spider web that reinforces your knowledge much more.” Studies have shown the fleeting confusion of constantly toggling between different subjects by interleaving can accelerate motor skills and massively improve long-term recall. 

Wellbeing can enhance memory 

“Research shows people who regularly get a good night’s sleep tend to learn at a faster rate and recall information for longer,” says Bradley. “During the day, it’s like an electrical storm with lots going on – you’re bombarded with information and constantly looking at your phone. The calmness of sleeping means you can organise and clarify what you were thinking of during the day, getting rid of the gunk…”

Bradley also recommends getting a good breakfast (research has shown skipping the first meal of the day can reduce students’ attention and ability to remember information), staying hydrated (one University of East London/University of Westminster study found staying hydrated can boost attention by nearly 25%) and exercising, preferably in fresh air (cardiovascular exercise such as running, swimming and walking triggers the release of memory-boosting neurotransmitters such as dopamine and epinephrine).   

Meet the expert – Bradley Busch is director of InnerDrive, a mindset coaching company.

Further reading:

Hannah Dolan is AAT Comment’s Content Editor.

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