Learning Objects: Teach Me Knowledge: Reciting

Do you study by reading and re-reading your notes to yourself silently? Stop! I know it feels good, in a monkish, masochistic, pain equals progress sort of way to beat your brains against a book hour after hour, but it’s also a terribly inefficient way to review. Instead, lecture to an imaginary class, out-loud, about the main topics, without reading off your notes. If you can state an idea once, in complete sentences, out-loud, it will stick. You don’t need to re-read it a dozen times. If you can’t capture it out-loud then you don’t understand it yet. Go back. Review. Then try again.

Cal Newport from “Monday Master Class: 5 Bad Study Habits You Should Resolve to Avoid in 2008“, Study Hacks Blog.

“We know from surveys that a majority of students, when they study, they typically re-read assignments and notes. Most students say this is their number one go-to strategy.

We know, however, from a lot of research, that this kind of repetitive recycling of information is not an especially good way to learn or create more permanent memories. Our studies of Washington University students, for instance, show that when they re-read a textbook chapter, they have absolutely no improvement in learning over those who just read it once.

On your first reading of something, you extract a lot of understanding. But when you do the second reading, you read with a sense of ‘I know this, I know this.’ So basically, you’re not processing it deeply, or picking more out of it. Often, the re-reading is cursory — and it’s insidious, because this gives you the illusion that you know the material very well, when in fact there are gaps.

Interview with Mark McDaniel by Joseph Stromberg, “Re-reading is inefficient. Here are 8 tips for studying smarter“, Vox.

Psychological research has uncovered many secrets to learning. What we’re about to tell you is the real deal, proven to work in scientific laboratories and in schools from junior high to the university level (McDaniel et al., 2011; McDaniel, Roediger & McDermott, 2007; Roediger, Putnam & Smith, 2011). If we had only one sentence to tell you the secret, it would be this: The secret to doing well is testing yourself on what you’ve studied — asking yourself questions, retrieving the answers, going back and restudying what you didn’t know, and testing yourself again and again until you learn the material. And even when you learn it, you need to keep testing yourself regularly over the semester so that what you’ve learned stays learned.

Use the 3R technique:
Read. Recite. Review.

Let’s say you’re supposed to read a chapter by your next class. Use these three basic steps:

  • Read a section of the chapter. Then close the book and hide your notes.
  • Recite (speak aloud) everything you can remember about what you’ve just read. You don’t need fancy equipment. You can recite to yourself, to a friend, to your cat or even to your coffee mug or a plant in your room.
  • Review the section by reading it again to correct anything you got wrong, or to revisit important information that you overlooked when you recited.

In one study comparing the effectiveness of various study techniques, students in three groups read long, technical encyclopedia entries (McDaniel, Howard & Einstein, 2009)… The students who had used the 3R technique did much better on the test than students who used the other techniques. What’s more, it took students less time to use the 3R technique than reading and taking notes.

One reason this method works so well is that when you practice the second R, you see immediately what you had trouble understanding, learning and remembering, so you know what to concentrate on when you do the third R: review.

Carole Wade, PhD, Carol Tavris, PhD, and Maryanne Garry, PhD, “The nine secrets of learning.” APA Psychology Student Network.

Mita Williams
December 2016