Write an essay where you tell us what test preparation practices work best for you and why.

The brain has an enormous capacity for holding information. Yet, why do we find it difficult, sometimes painfully difficult, to remember a list of terms or facts needed for important exams? In studying the brain and psychology, I have learned that the brain is not so akin to a computer as we have made it out to be; it makes many mistakes, forgetting and misremembering important facts and details. Despite this uncomfortable truth, there are ways to get around this and learn more effectively.

Recent research on learning has shown that one of the best methods of learning is testing, or retrieval practice (Roediger & Karpicke 2006). Simply, this looks like testing oneself by attempting to recall information that has not yet been solidified in memory. This seems counterintuitive - how would testing oneself on information not yet mastered improve performance on further tests?

One popular hypothesis (Bjork 1994, 1999) asserts that testing is effective because it makes learning more, but desirably, difficult. If one were to just skim over the material repeatedly, they would not be challenging their brain to remember the information. Alternatively, if one were to read the materials through, discard them, and test themselves to recall as much as they could without the aid of the materials, they would be significantly more likely to remember that information. This could be due to the brain having to work much harder to recall the information, and like a muscle, is repeatedly strengthened because of this extra effort. Thus, information is better stored and retrieved.

I was skeptical, until I began to implement it into my study routine. It proved frustrating, but I was delighted to find that I was able to recall information much more easily with each session and during exams! It may take more effort at first, but I believe it has helped me greatly in my academic endeavors and improved my studying efficiency, which is crucial in a time-pressed environment like university.

Eva from Illinois
College Junior
Purdue University