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Try It! An Easy Trick to Ace an Exam
If you want your teenager to do better on tests, here's an interesting trick: He should tell a friend what he has learned. Students who receive information and then re-tell it to someone else immediately recall the details better and longer than if they just re-read it in a textbook--a strategy that could pay off big time at test time.

There is one thing all U.S. schools have in common: testing. Lots of testing. All 50 states are ranked on this list based on how well their students perform on these tests.

The study: Led by Melanie Sekeres, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, the team recruited three groups of 20 undergraduate students with an average age of 21. Each group watched 24-second obscure clips from more than 40 foreign films in rapid succession over a 30-minute period. (The clips chosen were so obscure, it is unlikely the students would have seen them previously.) The films all contained brief scenes of normal, everyday events that mimicked the kind of events you might experience in a typical day, such as a family having dinner or kids playing at a park.

The study focused on how well the students were able to retain information on the films' plots, as well as sounds, colors, gestures, background details and other peripheral information, all of which would allow them to re-experience the event in rich and vivid detail.

To assist them with recall, the second group of students was later given brief visual cues from the films, such as a glimpse at the title or a sliver of a screenshot, while the students in the third group used the "replaying" method of memory retention, telling someone else about the films soon after viewing. The first group served as a control group and received no special memory cues.

The results:

  • Not surprisingly, all the participants recalled less about both the details and the substance of the films over a longer gap of time, forgetting the perceptual or peripheral details from the films more quickly than the films' central themes.

  • The students in the second group, who were given cues before being asked to recall the films, did better at retrieving the faded memory of the peripheral details; however, their retention of central information was not much different from the first group, who did not have such cues.

  • Most noteworthy was the third group who employed the "replaying" method--telling someone else about the films soon after viewing. These students successfully recalled both central and peripheral information far better over time than did the others.

The "replaying" method takes considerable effort, but it can be worth it. "We tell students to test yourself, force yourself to tell someone about the lecture," explains Sekeres. "Even by writing out some questions for yourself about the information, then later answering them yourself, you are more likely to remember the information."

The study findings were published in the journal Learning & Memory.

Here's an odd trick to perform better on a test!

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