New Study Techniques For Better Retention

study techniques

At the end of every summer parents have to try to retrain their children to get back into a school routine. After three months of playing video games, spending the day with friends and sleeping in they are going to have to get up early, and buckle down to balancing school and recreation.   They also have to get used to a new teacher, sometimes a new school, and things that are unfamiliar to them.

The biggest question is, how much have they forgotten over the summer, and can they pick up where they left off at the end of the last school year? Getting children interested in doing homework and studying so they will remember is always a challenge, so perhaps your children need to vary their routine.

Study TechniquesIn recent years cognitive scientists have found that a few simple changes in study techniques can reliably improve the amount of learning a child actually receives from studying. This advice may directly contradict much of the old-fashioned study habits, but the changes have proven to be effective. For instance, many experts currently advice students to find one specific location to do their studying, so they can work uninterrupted.   Research has found just the opposite to be effective.

In a classic 1978 experiment, psychologists found that college students who studied a list of 40 vocabulary words in two different rooms – one cluttered and windowless, the other modern with a view onto a courtyard – did far better on a test than students who studied the words twice, in the same room. Later studies have confirmed the findings. Instead of setting up a distinct location, alternate the rooms your child studies in.

“What we think is happening here is that, when the outside context is varied, the information is enriched, and this slows down forgetting,” said Dr. Robert A. Bjork, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles and senior author of the two-room experiment published in the journal Psychological Science.

According to Bjork, the brain makes subtle associations between what it is studying and the background sensations it has at the time, regardless of whether those perceptions are conscious. In effect, allowing the brain to process information with different environmental backgrounds renews the information and makes it easier to retain.

Another tip is to study related concepts or skills in one sitting, rather than focusing intensely on a single subject. By varying the type of material studied in a single sitting (example: reading, vocabulary or a foreign language) there seems to be a deeper impression made on the brain than only working on one subject at a time. Similar to an athlete who alternates their routine to build up their entire body instead of just one area – the brain builds up more muscle strength all-around by varying the routine.

Several studies have proven these techniques to be more effective in retaining what is learned for longer periods of time. Although they are not conventional techniques they seem to work, and finding new ways to get a child to retain information longer is always helpful.

This is Ron White. I am a memory-training expert, memory keynote speaker, and two-time USA Memory Champion.


New York Times – Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits, published September 6, 2010:


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