Never fear: Research shows you can make learning easier -- you just have to know what works and what doesn't. Raise your test scores with our back-to-school quiz, and take our survey about how technology has changed the classroom.
1. True or false:
Intelligence is fixed -- either you're good at learning or you're not.
Answer: False. In fact, Stanford University research found that simply believing you can work at becoming smarter produces higher achievement.
2. True or false: In a pinch, pulling an all-nighter can be an effective way to learn new material quickly.
Answer: False. Sleep is when our brains consolidate, or make permanent, what we've learned -- meaning that staying up to cram is likely to be counter-productive. Some experts even suggest taking a nap right after you've learned something new.
3. Your son has a high-stakes college interview coming up. To quell his anxiety, he should:
(a) Psych himself up by reminding himself how important it is to do well.
(b) Focus on trying to calm his physical reactions, like a racing pulse.
(c) Set aside 10 minutes beforehand to write about his fears.
Answer: (c). Off-loading anxieties by putting them down on paper frees your working memory -- the mental space for thinking and problem solving -- to focus on the task before you.
4. Your kid needs to learn some Spanish for a class trip. To make the new vocabulary stick, she should:
(a) Space out study sessions over several weeks.
(b) Spend a few hours cramming on the plane.
Answer: (a). Research on what's known as the "spacing effect" shows that we form stronger and more lasting memories by exposing ourselves to información over time. Repeated cycles of learning, consolidating, and then re-encountering material fix it firmly in our minds.
5. Next week your daughter has to give a big speech. The best way for her to prepare is to:
(a) Look over her notes a few times.
(b) Quiz herself, trying to recall the material from memory.
(c) Read out loud from her presentation outline.
Answer: (b). Recalling information is far more effective than passively reading it over. That's because testing doesn't simply measure what you know -- it reinforces what you know, says psychologist Henry Roediger III, Ph.D., of Washington University in St. Louis. Every time you summon facts from memory, you strengthen your brain's hold on the material.
6. Your son just started music lessons. To motivate himself to practice, he should:
(a) Promise himself a favorite video game if he completes his practice schedule.
(b) Choose pieces of music that he enjoys playing.
Answer: (b). As fun as that game sounds, research demonstrates we're most engaged in learning when our motivation is intrinsic -- stemming from the task itself rather than some external reward.
7. Your kid just made the golf team but needs to improve his putting. Which is the most effective way for him
(a) Practice for an hour each day without pausing.
(b) Ask a golf pro to point out his errors and help fix them.
(c) Hit the course with a less experienced golfer to bolster his self-confidence.
Answer: (b). To master any skill, you must eliminate mistakes. Find a coach or critic who can tell you whether you're doing something wrong, and then repeat the correct way until it becomes second nature. A University of Texas at Austin study of the practice routines of virtuoso pianists found that what separated them from less accomplished players was the amount of attention they paid to errors.
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