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13 interesting stats about learning proven by science

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Quizlet is proud to partner with real students to showcase authentic voices on our blog. This guest post is by Trevor Mahoney, a Finance and Management Information Systems major at Santa Clara University.

Learning is a staple of life and the more a person learns, the more unique knowledge they have. Many studies have been done on learning, so if you’re looking for a way to boost your grades, chances are there’s a research-backed method you haven’t tried yet.

Below are 13 interesting tidbits about learning that have been proven by science. From how to bolster learning to what types of learning strategies work best, there’s no shortage of fascinating information.

1. Studying before bed can help

We’ve all heard this rumor before, but there is actual scientific evidence that studying before bed can have a positive impact on your learning. A study done at Brigham and Women’s Hospital subjected two sets of participants to a memory test. In the study, half of the participants looked at a number of photos before going to bed for eight hours. Another group reviewed the photos in the morning.

Both groups took a memory test 12 hours after reviewing the photos and those who went to bed after reviewing the photos actually performed better! Note, though, that these subjects got a solid eight hours of sleep before taking their test. Getting enough sleep is very important to the learning process, and pulling an all-nighter can negatively impact your memory retention.

2. Take study naps

On the theme of sleep, small study naps can also have a positive impact on your overall learning. A study from the University of Lyon found that getting some sleep between study sessions can boost your recall for as long as six months after first exposure to a topic.

While it still isn’t known exactly why these small naps help retention, pausing to take a nap may be one of your best choices when studying.

3. Memory improvement strategies work

Practicing memory improvement strategies is another way to improve your studies. For example, simple visualization of certain topics can help you learn. When studying a term, try to picture it as an object in your mind whenever you say it. This way, it will appear in your head as a picture whenever you try to recall it.

4. Learning in more than one way can make an impact

Learning in one way alone can certainly allow you to retain information, but why stop there? There are many different ways to learn, ranging from visualization to auditory methods, and even kinesthetic modalities.

There is something known as the modality effect of cognitive load theory. Research shows that learning in only one modality, for example visualization, can lead to cognitive overload and less information being retained, whereas learning from multiple modalities won’t.

Therefore, the best way to learn and retain material is to use the modality effect and focus on trying to learn material in more than one way.

Combining different learning techniques can bolster retention of information and help turn you into a more efficient learner.

5. Teaching others enhances personal learning

It has been proven that learning by teaching can help improve student efficacy and confidence in information. Along with this, teaching others can help cement information in a person’s mind by forcing them to go into concepts on a deeper level than they would otherwise.

6. Flashcards are one of the best study tools

Flashcards are, without a doubt, one of the most effective methods to increase information retention. By writing out information on one side of a flashcard and another set of terms, pictures, or other associations on the opposite side, a person can increase their retention of a topic. Flashcards are proven to be one of the most effective study tools for increasing how quickly a person learns.

7. Apply practical experience to cement information

When you learn an abstract topic, it can be hard to picture it ever actually being useful in a real-world context. Not seeing the value of a topic or theme is a quick way to become bored, and boredom leads to less retention and attention.

Putting knowledge and skills into practice can help a student understand a topic better by adding context.

8. Look answers up when studying

Believe it or not, struggling to remember information and adamantly refusing to look it up can actually impede your learning. Interestingly enough, the longer you spend trying to remember an answer, the more likely you are to forget the information again.

This is due to the fact that failed attempts to recall information can create an error state of association. In one study, people were asked to think of words when given definitions. Some participants who had a “tip of the tongue” moment were told to take some time to think of the word. Others, however, were given the word immediately.

After a delay, the participants were then asked to recall the word and definition pair. Participants who were allowed to think about the word after the “tip of the tongue” moment were more likely to get the word wrong compared to those given the word right away.

So when you’re studying and you don’t know something, look it up. The time you spend trying to think about the correct answer may actually hurt you in the long run.

9. Test yourself

Taking tests can actually help you learn the topics you are studying. This is due to the fact that tests count as a practical application of material, as mentioned earlier. By putting your knowledge into a test, you are forced to recall and use the information you spent time learning.

10. Quit multitasking

In one study on multitasking, participants actually lost large amounts of time and were overall less efficient at learning when they were attempting to multitask. By switching from one topic to the next, you are spreading yourself too thin to actually absorb the information.

11. Start talking to yourself

As with teaching another person, speaking information out loud to yourself can have a number of benefits. Science Daily covered how speaking information aloud, called the production effect, actually helps put words and information into your long-term memory.

Active involvement in learning always produces a more efficient response, so start talking out loud while studying.

12. Study in short bursts

Whether to go to the library for one hour a day or 20 at once is an age-old question for students. However, “short burst” learning helps you retain more information over time, compared to overloading the brain with too much information at one time.

By taking days or weeks to learn material, you allow your brain to sit on information for longer, which increases the likelihood that you will retain that information. When cramming, so much information is being thrown at your brain that it is extremely unlikely you will remember as much.

13. Space out study sessions

Along the same line of thinking, the final science-backed tip for enhancing your learning is to space out your study sessions. Cramming rarely works. Science reporter and author Benedict Carey compares the concept of spacing to watering a lawn three times a week for 30 minutes, which is far more effective than watering once for 90 minutes.

Your mind works in a similar way. You’ll have a better chance at learning and retaining new information if you space out your studying and energy.

Learning is a lifelong process. Enhancing that process and discovering how to learn and retain information more efficiently can help everyone, students or otherwise.

Everybody learns differently, with a combination of strategies they pick up over the years. Try some of our tips to make the learning process that much more successful, or learn more about the learning science behind Quizlet. Happy studying!


Trevor Mahoney is wrapping up his last year at Santa Clara University where he studies Finance and Management Information Systems. He has been an avid reader his whole life, which evolved into a passion for writing while he studied abroad in New Zealand last year. He is currently searching for a post-college job and hopes to work at the intersection of business and technology.