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Learn and retain better when you take a test on material before you study it

Some proponents of a method to absorb information more effectively urge you to learn in chunks, review the chunks, and test yourself (See my post of Nov. 19, 2009: “spaced education’”). A related method emphasizes even more the benefits of testing yourself on material you are about to review carefully. As described in Sci. Am. Mind, March/April 2010 at 39, studies show that when you try to answer questions about material, you spot and retain the answers in the text you read much better than if you simply read the text and try to learn it.

So, quickly go over a statute, regulation, contract, or pleading and create some questions about the content. Just look at the headers, for example, and create the questions. Try to answer your questions without referring to the material, and then read the document. That pre-read engagement helps you pay attention and commit to memory. I remember a few other posts on ways to tune up your memory (See my post of April 18, 2005: take notes; Jan. 17, 2006: narratives store memories; May 30, 2006: working memory and the challenge of change; May 2, 2008: sleep enhances memory; Jan. 30, 2009: even moderate exercise sharpens one’s memory; Jan. 30, 2009: three tips for how to improve your memory; March 5, 2009: study at your metabolic peak time; Oct. 27, 2009: memory is not only selective, it is malleable; and Jan. 26, 2010: checklists.).

Drugs also may boost memory (See my post of Feb. 7, 2006: 40 drugs that improve memory, including modafinil; May 30, 2006: working memory; Aug. 19, 2007 #2: α2b-adrenoceptor and yohimbine; March 2, 2008 #4: ampakines and the neurotransmitter glutamate; and April 22, 2008: cogniceuticals include memory enhancement.).