When you are starting a day of study, you need to eat the right food. Here are some suggestions to get your brain cells fired up and ticking along nicely.
We’ve mentioned choline before. You’ll find it in egg yolks. It helps brain cells communicate with each other, keeps memories intact and is responsible for memory recall. Scramble some eggs, cooking them in olive oil on a low heat. Olive oil contains vitamins E and K which help with memory. Just make sure you never heat the oil to the point of smoking.
Serve the eggs with some oily fish such as sardines and some sliced avocado. Sardines are high in Omega 3 fatty acids which protect the brain and play an important part in learning and avocados contain a large number of medium chain triglycerides which have been shown to improve memory.
Finally, add some steamed spinach to your meal. High in iron, this will keep your brain oxygenated as you work.
This will get you off to a great start on your study days.
Active recall is the process of recalling facts from memory. A single test after reading some text produces better learning than re-reading the text or reviewing any notes. It turns out that re-reading text over and over again is in fact a very poor and ineffective way to study.
So how do you use active recall? Before opening any books or materials, start your study session by recalling everything you know about the topic, then check whether you were correct. Next, spend time studying the material. At the end of the study session test yourself. Finally, leave a gap before re-testing yourself again. The gap needs to be long enough (maybe several days), so that you actually forget information that didn’t make it into long term memory.
To be most effective repeat the active recall again and again in spaced out sessions. Not only is it an essential way to build strong long term memories but it also highlights exactly what you don’t know so you can focus on those areas of weakness.
Active recall is hard and feels less productive than re-reading, but the effort produces longer lasting learning and stronger long term memories.
Now you’ve made your deck of flash cards, this is how to use them.
Shuffle the deck and place them question up in front of you. Look at the first question and answer it out loud.Turn the card over and see if you were correct. If you were completely correct then place it out of the way in a new pile. If you get any part of the answer wrong place it into a second pile.Keep working through the cards this way.
When you reach the end of the flash card pile you should have two new piles. One of successfully answered questions which you can put aside to return to in a few days time. And a pile of incorrectly answered questions. These are the ones you are going to go through again on your next session. If you answer them correctly, return to them in a few days.
On occasion, when you return to your successful pile a few days later, try keeping them answer side up and remember the question. Knowing the relationship of the answer to the question is important too.
Keep making the gap you wait before returning to the successful pile, longer and longer until you only review them every few weeks. This spaced repetition helps embed the information into long term memory.
Flash cards are the perfect way to utilise active recall in your study. Whilst there are plenty of places online to download pre-made flash cards, the best method is to make your own as making them becomes part of the learning process itself. Grab yourself a pack of blank cards and get started.
Write the question on the front of the card – keep it to just one simple question. With only one on each card you’ll probably end up with lots of cards, but that’s fine.
Write the answer on the back. Don’t forget, we remember pictures better than words so focus on images in your answer, but do add a few words to the image for the greatest effect.
Mnemonics are really helpful too. These are patterns of letters, ideas, or associations which assist in remembering something. For example, if I was trying to remember the wives of Henry the VIII in the correct order, my flash card answer would look like this:
So in summary, one simple question on the front with a clear answer on the back that uses images and just a few words.
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management technique developed by Francisco Cirilo. It involves using a timer to break down work into 25 minute long intervals, separated by short breaks. Each interval is known as a pomodoro, from the Italian word for a tomato, after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Cirillo used as a university student. Using this technique is a great way to help you focus on your study.
Here’s how it works:
Choose a task
Set the alarm for 25 minutes
Work on the taskTake a short break – maybe 5 minutes
Every 4 rounds take a longer break – maybe 30 minutes
If you become distracted whilst you are working, or realise you have something else to do, write it down on a piece of paper and come back to it later when your 25 minutes of focus is over.
This is a great way to study, especially if you start each pomodoro by recalling what you learnt in the previous one. Trying to recall what you have previously learnt is a great way to consolidate the memory and the pomodoro technique helps you develop a laser sharp focus.
Lack of sleep impairs reasoning, problem solving and attention to detail. Not only does a good nights sleep address these problems but it is an important part of remembering information too.
In one study 2 groups of students were given a list of unrelated paired words to remember such as “elephant/glass” and “star/ladder”. One group was given the list in the morning and tested 12 hours later in the evening. The other group was given the list in the evening and tested 12 hours later in the morning after sleep. An increase in 20.6% in memory was found in the group that had slept. It seems that declarative memory (that’s remembering facts and information), improves if you sleep on it.
And one study showed that napping for 45-60 minutes after memorising word pairs could significantly improve memory.
Research also tells us that it is probably best to sleep about 3 hours after learning for the best rewards. So if you are learning during the day, try and take a nap or recap a few hours before bed to reap the rewards of sleep consolidated memory.
A memory experiment was conducted on a beach. Participants were asked to memorise a list of words in two conditions: one on dry land and the other while scuba diving. The next day, they were asked to recall all the words. The words learned underwater were better remembered underwater and words memorised on dry land were more accurately remembered on dry land. There was around a 50% better recall when the learning and recall environment were the same.Other studies have shown similar results and suggest that the more your study and test environments are the same, the better your memory is.
It seems that novel smells might play a role in memory too. Perhaps because the part of the brain that first processes smell is connected to the hippocampus – the part of the brain responsible for memory. If you use a distinctive, unfamiliar smell when you study, smelling that same odour during an exam may help you remember more information than without the odour.
So when you study, try and keep your study environment, smell and noises as similar to the real exam environment as possible.
Flavonoids are a group of natural substances that are found in fruits, vegetables, grains, flowers, tea and (best of all!!!) wine. They have anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory, anti-mutagenic and anti-carcinogenic properties.
Evidence suggests that flavonoids found in fruits have the capacity to improve memory and the effects of blueberry and blackberry appear to be most pronounced in terms of short-term memory. In one study people aged between 18 and 30 were given a smoothie before doing tests of their mental acuity. Everyone’s brainpower dipped in the afternoon, but after five hours it was 15 to 20 per cent higher if the smoothie they drank had contained 200g of blueberries.
Flavonoids are thought to increase blood flow to the brain and interact with signal pathways that are crucial to brain cell survival and growth. The changes they cause may help at the vital stage where a nerve impulse is converted into a lasting memory.
But make sure you buy fresh and eat the berries quickly because the chemicals break down over time.
Synapses are the connections between the neurons in your brain. Chemical and electrical signals pass across the synapses from cell to cell and the stronger the messages between your neurons, the stronger and more permanent your memories will be. Whilst repeating an action tends to make the signal between the cells stronger, stress can weaken your brains ability to retain information.
It turns out that regular aerobic exercise appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning. Exercising can mean that you retain information even under stressful conditions. As little as a 10-minute walk may be enough to increase the way your brain communicates between its regions and to enhance your ability to learn and remember. Exercise can also stimulate the release of chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells and the growth of new blood vessels in the brain.
So when you are studying or preparing for an exam, make sure you plan regular exercise into your schedule.
Most people read about 250 words per minute. But a few simple techniques can quickly double that speed for you. When we read we are slowed down for several reasons. First, your eyes do not move continuously along a line of text, instead, they make short, rapid movements with short stops. During these movements your vision is suppressed, and you are effectively “blind”. To reduce this, use your finger, a pen or a bookmark to follow along the line as your read. This alone will increase your reading speed.
Secondly, don’t go all the way to the margins. Start several words in, and finish several words before the end. You can increase this distance over time with practice. Try using a “Shultz table (there’s link in the notes below) to improve.
Finally, if you hear the words in your head as your read, you are limited to 400 words a minute. Reducing your “ internal voice” will make a noticeable improvement.
But be warned, faster reading doesn’t necessarily mean deep understanding, but it can certainly help you cover more ground to find the important details in a textbook.