building strong memory 9
Another practical application of the principle of consolidation is to review your notes immediately after class. If the reviewing is done by recitation you will be not only consolidating the new information but also strengthening the neural trace made in your brain.
A. M. Sones’s experiment on the value of review is illuminating. One group of students had no review immediately after a class meeting; a second group had only a five-minute review test. Yet with only this 5-minute advantage, the second group recalled one and a half times as much material as the group that had no immediate review, when both
groups were tested six weeks later.
William James indirectly suggested the principle of consolidation when he said that we learn to ice-skate in the
summer and to swim in the winter. It seems that consolidation, once accomplished, ensures long-term remembering.
8. The Principle of Distributed Practice Is distributed practice more effective than massed practice? First, to explain our terms: in distributed practice the student uses relatively short study periods broken up by rest intervals. In massed practice the student studies continually until the task is completed. The answer: Many experiments show that, in general, there is an advantage to distributed practice. The length of the study period, of course, varies with different individuals, as well as with the nature of the material being studied.
Why it works. There are three apparent reasons why distributed practice is more efficient than massed practice:
1. Both physical and emotional fatigue are prevented.
2. Motivation is higher when working within short blocks of time.
3. The neural processes of learning, once energized, seem to continue working during the rest period. There is an interesting comment regarding this third point. Some psychologists claim that a person is going over the task in his mind (rehearsing) during the rest periods. However, distributed practice results in increased learning in animals, too, and it is highly improbable that the increased learning in a rat, for example, would be due to any rehearsing that it might do while resting. So the increased learning in rats must be due to distributed practice, not to rehearsing. A practical application. A practical application of the principle of distributed practice would be the use of small blocks of time (often only ten minutes) that occur between classes. When the classroom lecture ends, while walking to the next class, try to recall the entire lecture, or as many of the ideas as possible.
Immediate and long-term gains. In an extensive experiment, Irving Lorge found that with the introduction of distributed practice, students immediately improved their performance. However, if distributed practice was stopped while the students were still working on the experiment, their performance decreased. There was an immediate reaction to both the injection of and the withdrawal of distributed practice.
Bertram Epstein experimented to find out whether or not distributed practice had an effect on retention; so he tested his groups immediately after learning, then retested them two weeks and ten weeks after the original practice. He found distributed practice to be superior to massed practice for both immediate and long-term retention. Use of massed practice. In some cases, massed practice is superior to distributed practice. In work such as the writing of a paper, massed practice is often essential.
For example, the exact locations of the little stacks of notes spread over the desk are held in mind with precision; the discrete bits of information are precariously suspended in mind to be fitted in like a jigsaw puzzle piece at the appropriate time; and, the organizational pattern, though dimly perceived, is beginning to take shape. To stop at this point would be disastrous. The entire effort would collapse. So, in creative work, or work which needs to be overviewed at one sitting, it is far more efficient to over-extend yourself — to complete that stage of the process — than to take a break or otherwise apply the principle of distributed practice.