What’s the best way to learn new material? According to a study by Jeffrey Karpicke and Janell Blunt of Purdue University, practicing memory retrieval is much more effective than any other study method.
Practicing memory retrieval simply involves repeatedly testing yourself to see what you remember after you put your notes away. In order to see how memorization practice compares with other kinds of study practice, the researchers enlisted 200 students to study a variety of science subjects. One group prepared elaborate concept maps explaining the material, whereas the other group simply read the texts and practiced memory retrieval. No one was more surprised than the students themselves when one week later the retrieval team showed a 50% greater improvement compared to the concept map team. This was true even when the students were tested on connections and inferences that weren’t explicitly in the text. In other words, practicing retrieval led not only to more complete memorization, but more importantly to a better understanding of the material.
As I stated, this went counter to the students’ own predictions. Most of them assumed that constructing concept maps and using other study tools would be more effective than merely practicing retrieval of the material. It’s certainly not the result I would have expected, but one I’m glad to know about for the next time I try to learn something new.