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The lat­est re­search on im­prov­ing mem­ory power, long term health ef­fects of poor sleep and more

WHY THE TU­TO­RIAL METHOD RE­ALLY WORKS! You love to boast that you swot­ted hard for your SSC Bi­ol­ogy exam just the night be­fore and still man­aged to get a hand­some 70 per cent marks. Now this strat­egy may have worked back in school and col­lege, but it may not be the best route to re­tain­ing im­por­tant stuff that you want to hold on to for the long term, say re­searchers. While cog­ni­tive sci­en­tists do not deny that hon­estto-good­ness cram­ming can lead to a bet­ter grade on a given exam, hur­riedly jam-pack­ing a brain, they say, is akin to speed-pack­ing a cheap suit­case — it holds its new load for a while, then most ev­ery­thing falls out. “With many stu­dents, it’s not like they can’t re­mem­ber the ma­te­rial” when they move to a more ad­vanced class, ex­plains Henry L. Roedi­ger III, a psy­chol­o­gist at Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­sity in St. Louis. “It’s like they’ve never seen it be­fore.” Ev­ery­thing is wiped out from the mem­ory. When the neu­ral suit­case is packed care­fully and grad­u­ally, say ex­perts, it holds its con­tents for far, far longer. An hour of study tonight, an hour on the week­end, an­other ses­sion a week from now: such so-called spacing im­proves later re­call, with­out re­quir­ing stu­dents to put in more over­all study ef­fort or pay more at­ten­tion, dozens of stud­ies have found. No one knows for sure why. It may be that the brain, when it re­vis­its ma­te­rial at a later time, has to re­learn some of what it has ab­sorbed be­fore adding new stuff — and that process is it­self self-re­in­forc­ing. That’s one rea­son cog­ni­tive sci­en­tists see testing it­self — or prac­tice tests and quizzes that are heav­ily used in pri­vate coach­ing classes in In­dia – as a pow­er­ful tool of learn­ing, rather than merely as­sess­ment. The process of re­triev­ing an idea is not like pulling a book from a shelf; fac­ing prac­tice tests it seems to fun­da­men­tally al­ter the way the in­for­ma­tion is sub­se­quently stored, mak­ing it far more ac­ces­si­ble in the fu­ture, it’s the­o­rized. In one ex­per­i­ment, Dr. Roedi­ger had col­lege stu­dents study science pas­sages from a read­ing com­pre­hen­sion test, in short study pe­ri­ods. When stu­dents stud­ied the same ma­te­rial twice, in back-to-back ses­sions, they did very well on a test given im­me­di­ately af­ter­ward, then be­gan to for­get the ma­te­rial. But if they stud­ied the pas­sage just once and did a prac­tice test in the sec­ond ses­sion, they did very well on one test two days later, and an­other given a week later. “Testing has such bad con­no­ta­tion; peo­ple think of stan­dard­ized testing or teach­ing to the test,” Dr. Roedi­ger says. “Maybe we need to call it some­thing else, but this is one of the most pow­er­ful learn­ing tools we have.” Of course, one rea­son the thought of testing tight­ens peo­ple’s stom­achs is that tests are so of­ten hard. Para­dox­i­cally, it is just this dif­fi­culty that makes them such ef­fec­tive study tools, re­search sug­gests. The harder it is to re­mem­ber some­thing, the harder it is to later for­get. This ef­fect, which re­searchers call “de­sir­able dif­fi­culty,” is ev­i­dent in daily life. The more men­tal sweat it takes to dig it out, the more se­curely it will be sub­se­quently an­chored.

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