In my last blog post, I asked you to do a simple memory test: see how many words (out of a list of 20) you can memorize in 41 seconds. If you haven’t read that post yet and taken the memory test, please click here and take the test before reading any further.
Did you take the memory test? Good, then let’s proceed.
As I stated in my last post, if you are like most people, you probably remembered roughly half of the words from the list. In addition, if you are like most people, there is an excellent chance that you remembered eraser and sandwich. So why those two words in particular? Before I give you the answer, take a moment to look at the list again and see if you can figure out why.
The reason why most people remember eraser and sandwich has to do with a valuable memory technique involving the order in which something is learned.
Take Regular Breaks
The order in which we learn information affects how reliably it will be recalled at a later time. This is known as the serial position effect or the primacy-recency effect. This effect, which was first studied by Hermann Ebbinghaus in the 1880’s, states that we tend to remember the most from the beginning (primacy) and the end (recency) of a study list. This is shown graphically below for the percentage of words recalled as a function of position in a sequence.
The primacy-recency effect doesn’t only apply to remembering a list of words. It also applies to material presented during class or learned during a study session. In essence, we tend to remember the most at the beginning and the end of a learning session. This means that if we want to maximize our learning and keep recall high, it makes sense to have a lot of beginnings and endings. How can we do this? It’s quite simple really. We can increase the number of beginnings and endings by taking frequent breaks.
Whenever studying, it is much better to break a long study session up into several mini-sessions with breaks in between. In general, I recommend that you take a break about every 45 minutes. The break should be about 5 – 10 minutes long and it should be a complete rest from what you were doing. Do not take a break from one subject to work on another. Get up and move your body in some way. I recommend spending a few minutes stretching and then recharging with water and a light snack if necessary.
This is really a great bit of knowledge to have as a student. Think about it. You can actually remember more by taking more breaks. Learn more and study less! That’s what accelerated learning is all about.