When one considers learning and studying, one should always keep three important aspects in mind:
The ability of any student to study successfully depends significantly on their fundamental study skills, i.e., their ability to concentrate, to perceive correctly and accurately, and to remember what has been perceived.
Study skills should not be confused with study techniques and study methods. The difference between these can be explained by using the game of soccer as an example. In order to be a soccer player, a person first has to master fundamental soccer skills, e.g., passing, heading, and dribbling the ball. Only after that can they be taught techniques and methods. In the same way, to be a good student, one must first master fundamental study skills.
Mnemonics training is often done without keeping this sequential fashion of learning in mind. A mnemonic is a specific reconstruction of target content intended to tie new information more closely to a student’s existing knowledge base and, therefore, facilitate retrieval. There are a variety of mnemonic techniques, including keywords, peg words, acronyms, loci methods, spelling mnemonics, phonetic mnemonics, number-sound mnemonics, and Japanese “Yodai” methods.
An example of an acronym is to remember the word HOMES to recall the names of the Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior. The purpose of number-sound mnemonics is to recall strings of numbers, such as telephone numbers, addresses, locker combinations, or historical dates. To use them, students must first learn the number-sound relationships: 0=s; 1=t; 2=n; 3=m; 4=r; 5=l; 6=sh, ch, or soft g, 7=k, hard c, or hard g; 8=f or v; and 9=p. To remember the date 1439, for example, they use the associated consonant sounds, t, r, m, and p, and will insert vowels to create a meaningful word or words. In this case, the word “tramp” can be used.
However, there are at least two problems in improving memory through mnemonic instruction. The first problem is — as already stated — that it overlooks the sequential fashion of learning. Mnemonics instruction is, to a large extent, instruction in memory techniques, which should be taught only after the skill of memory has been learned. It can be compared to a person being taught soccer tactics, such as the “wall pass,” while he has not yet adequately mastered the skill of passing the ball. As stated in Knowabout Soccer, “No matter how good your passing technique, if the quality of your passing is poor, your technique will not be effective.”
The second problem is that by teaching memory crutches only, the result is, as stated by Scruggs and Mastropieri, “on more complex applications, generalization attempts [are] less successful.” If the skill of memory is taught, however, the student can apply it in any situation.
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There are three learning techniques that can be employed to make studying more successful.
- Association: This is probably the most important and most effective of all the learning techniques, of which mnemonics is perhaps the most commonly used association technique.
- Thinking in pictures: One can remember much better what has been seen in the mind’s eye than what has been thought in abstract terms. Therefore, one should always consciously try to think in terms of pictures.
- Reduce frequency of brain waves: The brain usually vibrates at 20 cycles per second or higher. Dr. Georgi Lozanov was probably the first who discovered that, if the frequency of the brain waves is reduced more effective study becomes possible. He found that playing slow Baroque music could reduce the frequency of brain waves. José Silva was probably the first to discover a method to reduce the frequency of brain waves at will.
Most students have the bad habit of only studying the day before a test or exam. There are two serious disadvantages attached to this method of study:
- There is never any regular practice of study skills.
- It has been found that within 24 hours — on average — one forgets up to 80% of what one has learned. However, if the study material is reviewed after 24 hours, it takes 7 days before 80% is forgotten again, and if another review is done at this point, it takes 30 days to forget 80% again.
Research has shown that if the correct pattern or review of studied material is followed, memory consolidation is enhanced significantly, and the overall time spent in learning is slashed dramatically. The following pattern of initial studying and subsequent review will undoubtedly deliver excellent results:
- Set up a timetable that is divided into study periods of 30 minutes each. On the first day this new timetable will be implemented, take the first study period to learn some study material thoroughly. It must be brief enough so that it can be absorbed in only about 15 minutes. Once the entire study program is in operation, as you will soon realize when you read further, one only has about 15 minutes in each study period of 30 minutes to study and absorb new material. The rest of the time is spent reviewing previously learned material. The piece of work must be summarized and thoroughly studied in these 30 minutes. Take a rest of 5 minutes at the end of the study period.
- Review after 5 minutes. Take 3 minutes of the next study period to review the study material of the previous study period, before new material is again summarized and thoroughly studied.
- Review after 24 hours. Take 3 minutes to review the material that was studied the previous day. Then take 3 minutes to review the work that was studied 5 minutes ago, before again studying and summarizing new material.
- Review after 7 days. Take 3 minutes to review the work that was reviewed 7 days ago, before reviewing the work that was studied the day before, and then reviewing the work that was studied 5 minutes ago.
- Review after 30 days. Take 3 minutes to review the work that was already reviewed 30 days ago, before reviewing the work of 7 days ago, then that of 24 hours ago, and then that of 5 minutes ago.
- Review after 120 days. Take 3 minutes to review the work that was studied 120 days ago, then the work that was studied 30 days ago, before reviewing the work of 7 days ago, then that of 24 hours ago, and then that of 5 minutes ago.