Want to do Poorly on Midterms? Do this

You know it’s coming. Midterms are around the corner. But you are busy with other things. An English paper is due. A science project to complete. A hockey away game. “No worries,” you think, “I can study for the test a day or two before. Besides, studying the night before the actual test will keep the information fresh and current in my mind when I sit down to take the test.” This is a bad idea. Very bad. Extremely bad. This is not how your brain works.

Cramming is probably the worst way to study. And probably useless. Not only will you not remember the information, but you will be stressed, anxious, and likely to experience a “brain freeze”. What is the science behind this?

Understanding the Forgetting Curve: The Science of Memory Loss

German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus revolutionized our understanding of human memory. His 1885 research on the Forgetting Curve revealed an exponential loss of information over time, particularly within the first few minutes after learning. Ebbinghaus demonstrated through tests with three-letter words that information is rapidly forgotten, almost entirely within the first hour.

Strategies to Enhance Memory

The Power of Overlearning

Overlearning is not just about understanding the material; it’s about mastering it. This technique goes beyond basic memorization. When a student overlearns, they continue studying beyond the point of initial mastery. This means revisiting the material even after it seems familiar. The benefits of overlearning are substantial:

  • Enhanced Memory Retention: Overlearning solidifies the information in the brain, transferring it from short-term to long-term memory.
  • Reduced Cognitive Load: As the information becomes more ingrained, recalling it requires less mental effort, freeing up cognitive resources for understanding more complex aspects of the subject.
  • Increased Confidence and Reduced Anxiety: Familiarity with the material breeds confidence, which can significantly reduce test-related stress and anxiety.

Overlearning transforms knowledge into second nature. It’s akin to how a musician practices a piece of music until they can perform it effortlessly, or how an athlete drills a skill until it becomes automatic. This level of familiarity with academic material ensures that a student can recall information quickly and accurately under the pressure of exams.

The Role of Repeated Review

Repeated review is crucial in combating the natural tendency to forget, as outlined by the Forgetting Curve. The Forgetting Curve demonstrates that without regular review, memory retention drops steeply over time. However, each review session resets this curve, so the information is retained for longer periods. Key aspects of repeated review include:

  • Spacing Out Review Sessions: Instead of cramming, spacing out review sessions over days or weeks leads to better retention. This method, known as spaced repetition, aligns with the natural rhythms of memory formation and retrieval.
  • Active Recall: Engaging with the material through active recall, such as self-testing or teaching the content to someone else, reinforces learning more effectively than passive review methods like rereading.
  • Varied Review Techniques: Mixing different types of review methods, such as flashcards, quizzes, and group discussions, can keep the material fresh and engage different cognitive processes.

Incorporating the Forgetting Curve in Your Study Habits

Understanding the Forgetting Curve not only highlights the importance of regular review but also guides the timing and methods of study sessions. To use this knowledge effectively:

  • Start Early: Begin reviewing material well before the exam date. This allows for spaced repetition and deeper processing of the information.
  • Regularly Assess Understanding: Frequent self-assessment helps identify areas that need more focus and reinforces the learning process.
  • Incorporate Different Learning Styles: Using a combination of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning methods can cater to various learning preferences, making the study sessions more effective.

Final Thoughts

It is not too soon to start reviewing in anticipation of your midterms. A little bit of reviewing between now and your midterms is the key to success. The Forgetting Curve proves that the amount of review is directly and exponentially about what one remembers. Science has proven how to beat the Curve: review, rehearse, repeat, again and again, over time. This simple formula is the magic recipe for achieving midterms. If you don’t believe us, ask yourself “What was the result of your last test when you crammed for it”.

Get a jump-start on midterms now. You’ll be happy with your results later.


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Want to do Poorly on Midterms? Do this