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Rehearse Well

Rehearsal has its place in a strategic approach to learning texts. [The SQ3R way and similar learning approaches combined]. First survey the matter to study for a session. Then question some parts that may interest you. Then read through the material, review and recite and self-test. SQ4R suggests these phases: "Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Relate, Review, Review" in this order. Apt rehearsals are what the R-steps after "Read" are about.

At any rate, it often pays to detect and note the key points to remember in a text or happening. Learn the key points you get to. Practice often improves it.

Then rehearse to get the most out of the time you spend on it. It is quite easy. The way to do it is to jog your memory of things learnt by taking a restful look at their key points for several minutes. If you do it right, the key points serve as association "pegs" to more of the material to remember, and you recall more of the things you set out to learn.

To solidify what you have learnt for maximum benefit you may space out the rehearsal periods over weeks and months by taking into account the curve of forgetting - let the frequency taper off after some time.

Forgetting curves
Fig. Students forget much in a matter of days. After 6 days, perhaps 8% of something learnt can be recalled; it gets worse afterwards. (Averaged estimates. Top: 100% recall; bottom: 0% recall.) Source: Wikipedia, "Forgetting curve".

Curves of forgetting show that about 80 percent of the details of a lecture are forgotten after 24 hours. After a fortnight, next to nothing remains, in average. Memorisation helps against silly learning where the content is forgotten after a few weeks. Jarand Rystad (1993) once conducted as study at what is now termed the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. The study showed that all students and former students (researchers) in the study had forgotten so many of their mathematical skills some time after exams that all of them failed an unannounced exam on what was then a medium (second-grade) university level. They had all passed it earlier. Q. e. d.

Forgetting is counteracted by (i) interest, (2) selecting major points and organising them also, (3) recitation, and (4) distributed learning, asserts Robinson (1962, 22 ff). Reviews immediately after reading should be brief; probably not more than five minutes will be needed, says the American education philosopher Robinson (1962, 37), who introduced the reading comprehension method that is given the acronym SQRRR or SQ3R for "Survey, question, read, recite, and review."


Memorisation and recitation can work hand in hand. One may recite learnt material to a friend, or to oneself. Both ways work. How often and how many times to memorise key words? It depends on such as how well you want to remember, and how much time you really have. It depends on one's interests too. It is easier to recall things that gladden or interest us.

Otherwise, a human tends to forget the most right after the lecture or learning session. Therefore it is rather vital to memorise one's notes or key points very soon afterwards, so as to save as much as possible from being forgotten. The first five repetitions help the most (study the curves). What has been refreshed by then, may "sit" longer (that is, you remember better). Space out the memorisation sessions in more or less similar proportions as suggested above, and then your Long Term Memory (LTM), may not fail you so much and often. Great learning involves lsuch as earning for life or an occupation in life, and much depends on getting material into the long-term memory. Some parts of learning may be worked into the organism as well - how to do certain things or feats, for example riding a bike. (Cf. Use Your Head, 2010:41-58)

Cognitive maps can help in forming and "knitting together" key points so that they are readily available for surveys and memorisation work. To organise material meaningfully seems to be in step with how the brain works is fine.

Or mark the key words that you identify with a felt pen. Perhaps one tenth of the text may be worth marking off like that. And maybe down to one-fifth of the text we have colorred, gets to the sentral issues and are key points. It is good to not well such key words and key phrases: terminology, meaningful words to remember, something central, as the case may be.

An idea map (mind map) is ideally a poignant, visually accessible overview. You may want to draw an idea map (mind map) of the central points of a chapter after going through it. The editing may take more than five minutes. In this way, by peeling away from a chapter the quite unneeded words from the keys that help your recall, you may focus on perhaps ten percent of the whole chapter and let they serve as "memory pegs" to more of the material, by the associations they carry with them in the network that the idea maps presents. It is a good way to recall more material than you might have done unaided by "pegs". Try it and see for yourself.

By memorising the association-pegs in the idea-map frame, chances are you manage the learning process much better.

Good keywords are word we remember well. By rehearsing and memorising the pegs, more of the other content they are associated with, comes to mind too.

How to space out repetitions of key points

You may do it ad lib or spaced out somewhat, much as Tony Buzan suggest:

  1. After about ten minutes.
  2. The same night before going to sleep.
  3. After half a week.
  4. A week after that.
  5. Three weeks after that again.
  6. After two to three months.
  7. After a year, maybe.
  8. Afterwards, a little from time to time, as is convenient.

Spaced memorisations do not have to take long. They are to refresh already established patterns of associations, including ideas. Ten minutes each memorisation may be more than enough, if you have arranged your key words and key phrases so that you do not have to spend nine out of ten minutes reading unrwarding stuff, but is free to focus on keys and their networks of associations - to themselves and also what they may mean to yourself.

Overlearning can be assisted by asking one another questions in a lax, congenital atmosphere, and repeating it. Otherwise, when you learn the meaning of, say, ten words, in three minutes, go on for another three or four minutes to "cement" the memory patterns ("mental tracks"). Then you will be able to recall more, through overlearning. It should be perhaps 30 percent.

American studies show that for best results, memorisation should take up over three fourths (80%) of the study time; that makes the study most effective. But once you have memorised and overlearnt material enough, it "sits", and then a fresh-up every half-year or so may suffice if you mean to retain the best fruits of your study labour. If not, there is evidence that many make horribly ineffective use of their study time and efforts by cramming for exams and dumping most of the content in a few months afterwards.

A study at NTNU by Jarand Rystad shows how extreme such forgetting is at NTNU. A group of 17 - half of them graduate students, half of them researchers, attended a basic exam in mathematics on a lower level without preparing for it. All of them flunked. The implications are quite stunning and the findings are hard to get to, after being published in Adresseavisen and Universitetsavisa and commented on in various other places.

Memorisation and overlearning

Overlearning results from memorising the material one studies, or key points from it, above what is just needed to recall it. Memorisation can be time well spent: 80 percent of the study time spent on memorisation is profitable, says Francis P. Robinson, summarised in Atkinson et al. 1987, appendix)

Generally, about 25 percent overlearning may work well to aid retention.

Typically, this implies that if you need to repeat a row of words ten times to learn them, barely, then go on and repeat three times (that is 30 percent) more during the same session to make them "sit" better.

Learning tends to depend on what is recalled, and not just on what is understood, and recall may be helped by meaningful rehearsals. Overlearning also refers to practicing newly acquired skills beyond the point of initial mastery.

Professor Robinson advices:

The last step in the SQ3R Method, "reviewing," is in two stages: (a) quick checking over of your notes to get the organization cleared and marked and (b) an active process of covering up and reciting on sections of the notes. Many students try staring at notes and hope that a deep impression will sink in, but it is much better to practice what you will have to do in recitation or examination-recall from memory. If you have trouble recalling a point you can peek at your notes and try again. This review step at the end of reading a lesson should not take more than five minutes; when the material is fresh in your mind this type of recitation goes rapidly and helps fix the ideas. Practice this method of reviewing your lessons and note how much better you remember the material the next day. (Robinson 1962, 41)

Studies show there are gains

A 1992 meta-analysis suggested that overlearning does significantly affect recall over time. It also concluded that the size of this effect may be moderated by the amount of overlearning, task type, and length of retention. The meta-analysis included 15 studies, and showed an effect of overlearning. The effect size for physical tasks was smaller than the effect size for cognitive [mind-learning] tasks. More overlearning led to more retention on both types of task.

Some recent studies have concluded that the effects of overlearning tend to be fairly short-lived, so overlearning may be more useful when learners only need short-term retention of the material. (WP, "Overlearning")


How to rehearse, study tips, rehearsal of key points is a learning strategy fit for learning and study, Literature  

One or more of these may serve you:


Atkinson, Richard, et al. Introduction to Psychology. 9th ed. San Diego: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1987, an appendix.

Buzan, Tony. Buzan's Study Skills: Mind Maps, Memory Techniques, Speed Reading and More! Harlow, Essex, UK: BBC Actice, 2007. (Repackaged edition by Pearson Education, 2011).

Buzan, Tony. Make the Most of Your Mind. Rev. ed. London: Pan, 1988.

Buzan, Tony. The Memory Book: How to Remember Anything You Want. Harlow: BBC Active / Person, 2010.

Buzan, Tony, and Barry Buzan. The Mind Map Book: Unlock Your Creativity, Boost Your Memory, Change Your Life. Harlow: BBC Active / Pearson, 2010.

Buzan, Tony. The Speed Reading Book: Read more, learn more, achieve more. Harlow: BBC Active / Pearson, 2010.

Buzan, Tony. Use Your Head. Harlow: BBC Active / Pearson, 2010.

Fry, Ron. How to Study. 7th ed. Boston, MA: Course Technology/Cengage Learning, 2012.

Gross, Ronald. Peak Learning: A Master Course in Learning How to Learn. Rev. ed. New York: J. Tarcher/Putnam, 1999.

Gross, Ronald. Socrates' Way: Seven Master Keys to Using Your Mind to the Utmost. Rev. ed. New York: J. Tarcher/Putnam, 2002.

Hansen, Randall S., and Katherine Hansen. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Study Skills. New York: Alpha Books, 2008.

Malone, Samuel A. Mind Skills for Managers. Aldershot: Gowers, 1997.

Nast, Jamie. Idea Mapping: How to Access Your Hidden Brain Power, Learn Faster, Remember More, and Achieve Success in Business. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, 2006.

Price, Geraldine, and Pat Maier. Effective Study Skills. Harlow, Essex: Pearson Education, 2007.

Robinson, Francis P. Effective Reading. New York: Harper and Row, 1962.

Rystad, Jarand. "Alt glemt på grunn av ubrukeleg eksamensform? En empirisk unders&olsahs;kelse av Matematikk 2 eksamen ved NTH. (Everything forgotten because of a form of exam that won't do? An empirical investigation of the Mathematics 2 exam at NTH)" In UNIPED No. 2-3, 1993:29-50.

Walsh, Frank. The Regis Study Skills Guide. Updated by Chris Reisig. 5th ed. New York: International Debate Education Association, 2008.

Wilson, Elizabeth, and Dorothy Bedford. Study Skills for Part-Time Students. Harlow, Essex: Pearson Education, 2009.

Wood, Gail. How to Study: Use Your Personal Learning Style to Help You Succeed When It Counts. 2nd ed. New York: LearningExpress, 2000.

Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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