Smart isn't just something you are. It's something you do.
A boatload of science shows that, when it comes to how fast we learn, context and strategy are nearly as important as sheer mental horsepower. Or as Mikey Garcia, a PhD candidate at the Bjork Learning & Forgetting Lab at UCLA put in a fascinating video outlining the lab's findings: "A lot of people think they're not good learners... but often times they're just not using effective practice."
The five-minute video is jam packed with research-backed tips on how to cram more information into your brain faster and more effectively. You can use them whether you're a college student, a professional working on a training or certification, or just a life-long learner.
1. Learn to teach.
One experiment outlined in the video went like this: one group of students was given a sheet of paper with material and told to learn it for a test, while another group got the same sheet and was told to learn it to teach it to someone else. Both took the same test. Who did better? Those who learned to teach by far.
So next time you have to learn something, try getting it straight enough in your mind to teach it to a friend or fellow learner rather than just focusing on rereading the material endlessly.
2. Remember more with retrieval.
"When class ends, I tell students, ten minutes after class get a blank piece of paper and just write down everything that was going on in class today. And then, at night, again get another blank piece of paper, write down everything you remember from class. That will have a way bigger impact than most of the stuff students do," says Garcia.
3. Test yourself.
The test isn't the end goal of learning, according to cognitive science. It's the means of learning itself. If you can get old tests or practice tests, great, use those, but if you can't just open up your textbook, look at the subheadings, cover the page underneath, and try to remember what information that section contains, suggests the lab's Veronica Yan.
Alternately, you can set yourself the task of trying to imagine what questions might appear on the test to focus your mind on what you need to learn and what areas might be sources of confusion.
4. Space practice.
Cramming might help you pass the test in the short-term, but as many discover in college, you quickly forget anything you learn this way. "If you have four hours to study, then you're much better spending an hour every single day for four days than spending four hours on one day," insists Garcia. Even breaking a single hour into four well spaced fifteen-minute study sessions can be beneficial.
5. Don't focus.
Immersing yourself in one concept or section until you master is seems to make intuitive sense, but science says that, in fact, it's better to mix things up. Moving back and forth between different subtopics helps you both see connections between ideas and recall information whenever you need it.
6. Study in different places.
Forget making one particular corner of the library or your local cafe your second home. "The science of learning actually says you should mix up where you study," notes Nicholas Sonderstrom, another researcher at the lab. Apparently, associating different environmental cues with the material you're trying to learn makes it easier to call those memories up later.
7. Don't flip that flashcard too quickly.
Studying terms or vocabulary? Don't immediately flip that flashcard when you don't know an answer. "Try to remember it as hard as you can. Try to remember things related to it," suggests Garcia. Research shows that "even attempting to retrieve something, when you fail to retrieve it, after you look at the answer, you're going to remember it better."
Want all the details? Then here's the video.