Memory and Study

A friend just told me of a study he’d heard on a podcast from NPR (link forthcoming) that boils down the following very sensible distinction:

The best way to memorize (something) is to practice recall(ing it).

That makes sense.  Recall, it would seem, is functionally similar to many other anatomical & physiological processes.  Practice refines the expression.  This all means that the best way to study is not to reread information that you’ve already comprehended.  Or to reread notes about that information.  Rather, it is more appropriate to extract questions with straightforward answers from the material.  Put the question on one side of a flash card and the answer on the other.

My friend made the point that when you read through the flash cards you shouldn’t just “flash” through them.  You should spend some time really trying to feel the urgency of each question.  When you feel it, then flip to the answer.  Let the answer relieve the urgency.  That’s neurophysiologically optimal.

I’d add that, for mastery, after you’ve wrangled some memory of the meat of the content, go back, re-encounter the content, checking off the bits you remember as you seek deeper questions and insights.  Rinse.  Lather.  Repeat.  Broaden.



Q1: What’s the best way to try to remember something?

A1: Practice recalling it by weaving questions around it as the answer.

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