Study Tips: Brain Space

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In this installment of our new (and ongoing) series of study tips, we bring more cognitive neuroscience (Ooooh! SAT vocabulary makes everything sound big and fancy, but cognitive neuroscience simply means the study of how we think) to bear with distributed learning.

Distributed Learning: What is it?

In a word, distributed learning means spaced out repetition, as opposed to massed learning, otherwise known as cramming. An example would be studying a vocabulary list twice a day for three days, as opposed to six times in one day.

What are the gains?

Research has shown that the average person who employs distributed learning remembers better than approximately 67 percent of those who use massed learning. Furthermore, distributed learning doesn’t take any longer (in the long run) than cramming and is easier to fit into a schedule because it requires smaller chunks of time.

The best way to distribute your study time for most standardized tests is in chunks about the same duration as the sections on your test.

For example, if you are preparing for the LSAT, then it makes good sense to distribute your study into blocks of 35 or 70 minutes since LSAT sections are typically 35 minutes long and breaks are generally given every 2 sections. For the ACT it would make more sense to study math in 60 minute intervals and reading in 45 minute intervals.

Any caveats?

Well, a few, but none negative. Distributed learning is best for moving information into long term memory, so it’s especially potent on those pesky SAT vocabulary words, and other facts which will serve you well for a long time. The other thing to keep in mind is that distributed learning requires at least a day between study sessions – some studies indicate that sleep may help with memorization.

So, the old adage, “Study long, study wrong,” might be better reworded as, “Study long-term, study right!” Go forth and study long, memorize your SAT math formulas in 20 minute blocks, study GRE vocabulary in 25 minute sessions twice a week, learn your GMAT idioms daily during your 30 minute commute. This is a great way to prepare before entering a preparation course and to start preparing for tests early!

Got study tips that work for you? Share them with us so we can all do better on these tests!

Good luck!


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