When it comes to studying, there’s no shortage of advice and tips: create flashcards, use practice exams, form study groups—everyone has their favorite method to retaining knowledge and getting ahead in class.
As helpful as general study advice can be, it’s also essential to remember that a large part of the learning experience is physical.
Dr. Anees Chagpar, professor of surgery at Yale’s School of Medicine, says, “Education relies on the well-being of learners and instructors.” So no matter how many flash cards you create, your body needs to be well to do well.
“Sleep improves productivity. Exercise improves cognition and leads to fewer days in the doctor’s office,” Dr. Chagpar explained. “A balanced diet provides essential energy to tackle challenges. There is clear data that taking care of our health is critical not only to preventing disease, but also for improving our quality of life and learning ability.”
Five Practical Neuroscience-Based Learning Tips
Before you sit down to study, it’s important to know how your body—especially your brain—works. Here are five study tips to help retain knowledge more effectively:
1. Scan headings, subheadings, and illustrations in the chapter first.
Now take a moment to visualize the chapter and reflect on the broad purpose of the lesson ahead. As you do this, your brain goes into receptive learning mode, giving you a structure in which to connect new concepts.
2. Next, create conceptual “chunks” of information.
Let’s say your math chapter includes several sample problems with the solutions shown. Focus on those problems to understand why each solution works the way it does and what procedure(s) the problems have in common. In the process, you’re creating chunks of knowledge that you can later retrieve and build on to solve other types of problems.
3. Pause, recall, and reflect.
After you’ve read a page or solved a problem, close your book and pause to recall the main underlying ideas. One of the greatest benefits of virtual school is the freedom to move at your own pace, so feel free to take a moment and reflect. Give the concepts you’ve just learned time to sink in before you move on to the next problem. Make sure to keep in mind the difference between rereading and recalling. Passively rereading without understanding the ideas will not help you hold on to the information better.
4. Use simple analogies or comparisons to make concepts memorable.
When you frame a concept you’ve learned as a simple analogy, you’re giving it a way to connect with other ideas and areas of the brain. Grab a pen and paper to write the comparison, which will help encode it even deeper in your brain. Writing by hand converts what you’re learning into the neural memory structure. In other words, you’re making actual physical changes to your brain.
5. Space your studies and your practice.
Your brain is like a muscle that needs alternating periods of exercise and recovery to synthesize new information and ideas. It’s best to spread virtual learning out, studying some every day rather than cramming during a few marathon study sessions—especially with difficult subjects. When you cram, the knowledge may stick around long enough to pass the day’s test, but it’s far less likely to be there when you need it to tackle the next day’s tough topic. It might be helpful to create an online school schedule to make sure you’re making time for breaks. During your sessions, take periodic study breaks to go for a walk, chat with a friend, or have a snack.
Remember: When it comes to gaining and retaining new knowledge, it’s not always mind over matter. Your physical needs often have a direct effect on your ability to learn—and understanding how your brain works can make a big difference in your academic success.
Setting up a fun space to learn can also help a K–12 virtual student’s ability to effectively learn. Discover common mistakes in learning environments that you can avoid when creating your child’s study space.