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I first started studying how to improve studying (specifically, neuroscience & memorization) a few years ago. Here’s an old paper I wrote for a neuroscience class on the topic, in fact. As you can see from the paper and this YouTube video I made, the length of a study session is very important. The chart at the left is one of my favorite visual aids to demonstrate how as a study session gets longer, the percentage of “wasted time” becomes greater (aka the Primary-Recency Effect or Serial Position Effect).
Simply put, we can take advantage of this. The Pimsleur audio tapes for learning a foreign language intentionally make use of this effect, in fact (Dr. Paul Pimsleur researched “graduated interval recall”). We can make use of similar principles by making each study session:
- 20-30 minutes long
- Begin with a review of previous information, and then jump quickly into new material (prime-time 1)
- Use the down-time (about 10-15 minutes in) to play short game or interactive activity that makes use of the material
- Conclude with a review of the information (as well as information from previous lessons) and, if possible, a practical implementation of the knowledge (prime-time 2)
- Spend at least 5-10 minutes on an unrelated activity (even if it is just making coffee and reading a website) before starting a new study session
This is a general property of the human mind, not something specific to studying – so try it out at work, too!