Studyology: How do you retain information?

If you are one of those students that rereads your notes and textbooks to prepare for an exam, you’re doing it wrong. Rereading information is actually not an effective way to study, despite what many students think.

“Rereading is terribly inefficient,” said Janel Fergusson, a PhD candidate and sessional lecturer for the UBC department of psychology. “When you reread your notes, what happens is that you get more and more familiar with how [the information] is written there ... and then, when you’re presented with [the information] in a different way, you don’t know it.”

This notion of becoming familiar with a certain wording is called fluency, which can be misinterpreted as gaining understanding of the topic, when instead you are simply recognizing information you’ve previously read.

A better way to study than by simply exposing yourself to the information is by testing yourself. Use any practice materials provided by your textbook or professor. Make cue cards with definitions you’ve written yourself. Create questions to answer during a later study session. This can be a two-pronged strategy, as both creating and responding to questions will help reinforce that information.

Using different strategies to test yourself on the material “will ensure that you know it deeply and that however you’re asked it, you can bring it to mind,” said Fergusson. “If you’ve practiced answering it in different ways, practiced writing it in different ways, you’re going to find it.”