We’ve all spent a minimum of a decade in formal education, so you’d think that in all that time, we’d have at least mastered the most basic principles of how to study efficiently. But study after study shows that’s not true. Many of the best scientifically validated tips and tricks for faster learning are never taught in school.
Take a dead simple suggestion uncovered by researchers out of Canada’s University of Waterloo as one example. The research, recently published in the journal Memory, showed that compared with silently reading material or listening to it read aloud, reading out loud yourself can give you between a five and fifteen percent boost in learning speed.
“Say the information that you want to remember out loud and you’ll have a higher likelihood of remembering it. Yes, it’s that simple!” psychologist and study co-author Colin MacLeod enthused in an email interview. And while five percent might not sound like a massive improvement, given how incredibly easy it is to just open your mouth and speak, MacLeod insists this study hack is definitely worth a try.
All the great study techniques you weren’t taught in school
Such a dead simple memory booster should be the sort of thing schools routinely share with kids, but according to MacLeod people more often find their way to using this technique by instinct than instruction.
“People have told me after hearing about our research that they always tried to study the important material out loud when they were in school, likely reflecting a kind of implicit knowledge that this is a good thing to do for memory,” he reports.
Why are schools and universities not teaching this technique? Maybe because they’re not offering students information on scientifically validated study techniques generally. Research has shown taking notes longhand greatly increases retention versus typing them out, yet relatively few students are told to leave their laptops at home. And highlighting important passages has been shown to be worse than useless, yet my clearest memory of my dutiful pre-med college roommate is her hunched over a textbook, highlighter in hand.
Schools don’t just fail to warn learners away from unhelpful practices. They also often forget to mention techniques, like the one MacLeod’s research uncovered, that actively boost learning, such as interleaving (alternating between practicing different skills) and delayed retrieval (taking a decent sized break from studying and then quizzing yourself). Science has even shown that exercising around four hours after studying helps you remember more of what you’re trying to learn. Did a teacher ever tell you to make sure you were active in the afternoon to help you ace your next test? Probably not.
The bottom line here is that simply passing through the school system is no guarantee that you’ve learned how to learn efficiently. Spending a little time familiarizing yourself with the science of how to study will make you instantly smarter.