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How to Learn Best at College

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David Glenn wrote an article entitled: “Close the Book. Recall. Write it Down.” This title, in a nutshell, sums up the best way to learn. If you are a freshman in an introductory level course, by November you will be facing your first large test, the midterm. Many students are worried about taking a test over such a large amount of material.

The general advice for studying is to outline materials as you read and to re-read to refresh before a test. But, Mark A. McDaniel, a psychology professor at Washington University, has just authored a new study that details how re-reading is not the most effective way to study. Why?—because it is passive and simply has students review the same information in the same format. Because the information and format are already familiar to the student, the student “thinks” she knows it. Professor McDaniel’s study re-proves accepted learning theory that the best way to retain information is to restructure it.

This is not memorization for educators who think the method of close-the-book-recall-and write is rote. Rather McDaniels describes this method as “free recall.” Having read once though information usually allows the reader to extract what he is going to know. Then to recall it is to restructure that information in his own words and context. That recall becomes active with writing it down or saying it out loud. In fact, some educational theorists feel self-quizzing and regular low stakes quizzes in classes help learning along.

Students, from now on read carefully, but then put your book away and try to recall what you have read.