The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

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The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Uncommon study habits that improve test scores

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By Paige Brown

Most modern neurologists believe the human brain has an unlimited amount of storage. In fact, research shows memory formation starts as early as 20 weeks after conception. With this in mind, harnessing the ability to label and recall information effectively can affect everyday life, specifically many of the activities required by college students.

Despite their negative connotation, quizzes and exams have a profound impact on many college students’ academic careers. With finals only days away, beginning to develop efficient study habits becomes a necessity when preparing. A good start includes stopping by SMU’s Altshuler Learning Enhancement Center (A-LEC). However, students may find that successful studying comes from developing a deeper understanding of how the human brain creates and stores information for future retrieval. This article outlines five study habits that adopt a psychological approach to better understand memory and cognition and how one can use these techniques to acquire academic success.

1. The Forgetting Curve

According to well-known psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, reviewing material shortly after learning it can help reduce the majority of forgetting that takes place within a matter of hours to days after learning something new. SMU student Caroline Davis said, “To study for exams I will rewrite my notes and any information from PowerPoint or other study materials.” Davis avoids the “forgetting curve” phenomenon as she revisits her notes shortly after writing them.

2. Interference

Because spoken words can enter into the working-memory process and interfere with memory retention, listening to music or watching television while studying can make it difficult to retain information. According to a quantitative study conducted by Stacey A. Anderson and Gerald B. Fuller, which looked at the effects lyrical music with lyrics has on reading comprehension in adolescents, students perform best at understanding information when they study in silence.

3. Encoding Specificity

Encoding specificity, a principle proposed by researchers Thomson and Tulving, says that memory becomes most effective when information available at encoding also remains present during the retrieval process. Because students are more likely to remember information in the same context in which the material was previously learned, studying in a similar environment to where a test will take place can help during the retrieval process. SMU student Sidney Wagner said, “I study everyday and I usually study alone. I listen to music and I always go to the library.” Wagner, who frequently studies in the library, increases the probability of memory retention as she studies in an environment that is closely related to a classroom setting.

4. The Self-Reference Effect

The phenomenon of remembering a birthday in close proximity to one’s own birthday demonstrates an example of the “self-reference effect.” This principle refers to the ease one experiences when retrieving information closely related to the self. Students can benefit from this principle by creating connections between study materials and themselves.

5. Elaborative Rehearsal vs. Rote Rehearsal

Using an elaborative rehearsal process instead of a rote rehearsal process when studying can also contribute to how well a student remembers information. This means that rather than trying to memorize a word by saying it repeatedly, students should attempt to develop a more meaningful understanding of the word. An elaborative rehearsal process known as the “generation effect” allows individuals to better remember information that they generate independently from others. Straining to develop an answer autonomously creates connections and pathways from newly learned items to information previously stored in long-term memory. Students can benefit from establishing these networks because it makes information retrieval a quicker and easier process.

Utilizing these concepts, which are heavily studied within the cognitive psychology field, can improve a students ability to perform well on a variety of aspects related to academia. Because our memories make us who we are, become the student who applies these study tips and aces final exams.

For those interested in psychology, specifically cognitive psychology, SMU offers a course every semester on memory and cognition taught by Dr. Susan Hornstein, which focuses on many of the concepts referenced in this article.

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