To learn — Retrieve

Long-term memory capacity is virtually limitless: the more you know, the more possible connections you have for adding new knowledge.

Mastering /the lecture or the text is not the same as mastering the ideas behind them.

When people hear a lecture or read a text that is a paragon of clarity, the ease with which they follow the argument gives them the feeling that they already know it and don’t need to study it.That is deceiving. They tend not to know what they don’t know; when put to the test, they find they cannot recall the critical ideas or apply them in a new context.

The frustration many people feel toward standardized, “dipstick” tests given for the sole purpose of measuring learning is understandable, but it steers us away from appreciating one of the most potent learning tools available to us.

Delayed feedback on written tests may help because it gives the student practice that’s spaced out in time, spacing practice improves retention. Tests that require the learner to supply the answer, like an essay or short-answer test, or simply practice with flashcards. Practice at retrieving new knowledge or skill from memory is a potent tool for learning and durable retention. After an initial test, delaying subsequent retrieval practice is more potent for reinforcing retention than immediate practice, because delayed retrieval requires more effort.

The basic idea is that varied practice — improves your ability to transfer learning from one situation and apply it successfully to another. The dauntless effort despite the risks, the discovery of what works and what doesn’t that sometimes only failure can reveal — that is desirable.

Learning is at least a three-step process: initial encoding of information is held in short-term working memory before being consolidated into a cohesive representation of knowledge in long-term memory. Consolidation reorganizes and stabilizes memory traces, gives them meaning, and makes connections to past experiences and to other knowledge already stored in long-term memory. Learning always builds on a store of prior knowledge. We interpret and remember events by building connections to what we already know.

Because of the vast capacity of long-term memory, your facility for calling up what you know depends on the repeated use of the information (to keep retrieval routes strong) and on your establishing powerful retrieval cues that can reactivate the memories. But when you recall it after some time has elapsed, you have to make an effort to reconstruct it. This effortful retrieval both strengthens the memory but also makes the learning pliable again, leading to its reconsolidation. Interleaving and variation build new connections, expanding and more firmly entrenching knowledge in memory and increasing the number of cues for retrieval. Trying to come up with an answer rather than having it presented to you, or trying to solve a problem before being shown the solution, leads to better learning and longer retention of the correct answer or solution, even when your attempted response is wrong, so long as corrective feedback is provided.

0. Retrieval practice — means self-quizzing. Retrieving knowledge and skill from memory should become your primary study strategy in place of rereading. How to use retrieval practice as a study strategy: When you read a text or study lecture notes, pause periodically to ask yourself questions like these, without looking in the text: What are the key ideas? What terms or ideas are new to me? How would I define them? How do the ideas relate to what I already know? When you quiz yourself, check your answers to make sure that your judgments of what you know and don’t know are accurate.

1. Space Out Your Retrieval Practice. Spaced practice means studying information more than once but leaving considerable time between practice sessions. How to use spaced practice as a study strategy: Establish a schedule of self-quizzing that allows time to elapse between study sessions.

2. Interleaving practice. If you’re trying to learn mathematical formulas, study more than one type at a time, so that you are alternating between different problems that call for different solutions. Why interleaved practice is better: Mixing up problem types and specimens improves your ability to discriminate between types, identify the unifying characteristics within a type, and improves your success in a later test or in real-world.

3. Elaboration improves your mastery of new material and multiplies the mental cues available to you for later recall and application of it.

What is it? Elaboration is the process of finding additional layers of meaning in new material.

For instance: Examples include relating the material to what you already know, explaining it to somebody else in your own words, or explaining how it relates to your life outside of class.

4. Generation has the effect of making the mind more receptive to new learning.

Generation is an attempt to answer a question or solve a problem before being shown the answer or the solution. Experiential learning is a form of generation: you set out to accomplish a task, you encounter a problem, and you consult your creativity and storehouse of knowledge to try to solve it. If you’re in a science or math course learning different types of solutions for different types of problems, try to solve the problems before you get to class. The Physics Department at Washington University in St. Louis now requires students to work problems before class. Some students take umbrage, arguing that it’s the professor’s job to teach the solution, but the professors understand that when students wrestle with content beforehand, classroom learning is stronger.

5. Reflection is a form of retrieval practice : What happened? What did I do? How did it work out?, enhanced with elaboration: What would I do differently next time? What went well? What could have gone better? What other knowledge or experiences does it remind you of? What might you need to learn for better mastery, or what strategies might you use the next time to get better results?

The paragon of successful learner:

  • Always does the reading prior to a lecture
  • Anticipates test questions and their answers as he reads
  • Answers rhetorical questions in his head during lectures to test his retention of the reading
  • Reviews study guides, finds terms he can’t recall or doesn’t know, and relearns those terms
  • Copies bolded terms and their definitions into a reading notebook, making sure that he understands them
  • Takes the practice test that is provided online by his professor; from this he discovers which concepts he doesn’t know and makes a point to learn them
  • Reorganizes the course information into a study guide of his design
  • Writes out concepts that are detailed or important, posts them above his bed, and tests himself on them from time to time
  • Spaces out his review and practice over the duration of the course.

Survey.Question. Read. Recite. Review.

SQ3R will help you build a framework to understand your reading assignment.

Before you read, Survey the chapter:

  • the title, headings, and subheadings
  • captions under pictures, charts, graphs or maps
  • review questions or teacher-made study guides
  • introductory and concluding paragraphs
  • summary

Question while you are surveying:

  • Turn the title, headings, and/or subheadings into questions.
  • Read questions at the end of the chapters or after each subheading
  • Ask yourself, “What did my instructor say about this chapter or subject when it was assigned?”
  • Ask yourself, “What do I already know about this subject?”
  • Note: If it is helpful to you, write out these questions for consideration.

When you begin to Read:

  • Look for answers to the questions you first raised
  • Answer questions at the beginning or end of chapters or study guides
  • Reread captions under pictures, graphs, etc.
  • Reduce your speed for difficult passages
  • Stop and reread parts which are not clear
  • Read only a section at a time and recite after each section

Recite after you’ve read a section:

  • Orally ask yourself questions about what you have just read, or summarize, in your own words, what you read
  • Take notes from the text but write the information in your own words
  • Underline or highlight important points you’ve just read

Review: an ongoing process

Day One

  • After you have read and recited the entire chapter, write questions for those points you have highlighted or underlined.
  • If you took notes while reciting, write questions for the notes you have taken.

Day Two

  • Page through the text and/or your notebook to re-acquaint yourself with the important points.
  • Cover the right hand column of your text/note-book and orally ask yourself the questions in the left hand margins.
  • Orally recite or write the answers from memory.
  • Develop mnemonic devices for material which need to be memorized.
  • Make flash cards for those questions which give you difficulty.

Days Three, Four and Five

  • Alternate between your flash cards and notes and test yourself (orally or in writing) on the questions you formulated.
  • Make additional flash cards if necessary.


  • Using the text and notebook, make a Table of Contents — list all the topics and sub-topics you need to know from the chapter.
  • From the Table of Contents, make a Study Sheet/ Spatial Map.
  • Recite the information orally and in your own words as you put the Study Sheet/Map together.
  • As you have consolidated all the information you need for this chapter, periodically review the Sheet/Map so that at test time you will not have to cram.

This isn’t my content at all. I decided to make a short summary for those who doesn’t have suffice time to read 300 pages, when they can read only 10 and derive useful ideas as if they read a whole book.The text above is proprietory to its authors. Links to book and system sQ3R are below:

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