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  • Writer's pictureThuy Truong, M.A. Ed.

The Real Return On Investment In Memory Retrieval Daily (Hidden Benefits, True In All Grades)

Updated: May 27, 2023

| by Thuy Truong, M.A. Ed., TPT Teaching and Coaching, 11/11/2021|

There are two types of knowledge acquisition: shallow and deep. Shallow knowledge would be remembering something today and forgetting it tomorrow. Deep knowledge is locked safely in long-term memory through the consistent process of memory rehearsal. This method is known as recall such as recalling class notes. This is where a student sits down after class to process, thinks through, and distills the marrow of the lesson from memory. Then, the student handwrites out the main gist of what they had learned that day. This consistent rehearsal of learning content is how long-term memory is formed day by day, little by little. Still, why must one sit down and study every day, especially when it's only the first day of class and the final exam is far away? Whether your child is in elementary or postsecondary school, recall may look different for every age but its universality remains unchanged: Study as you go versus study when there's a test. Hopefully, the hidden benefits listed below will explain the return on investment (ROI) in studying every day:

Benefit #1: Cut down your overall study time by 50%

According to the Association of American Colleges & Universities, college students should study two hours outside of class for every hour spent in class. Despite this has long been considered a prominent fact about effective study routine at the higher ed level, there is a bigger benefit behind this tried and true academic regimen. If you study every day after each class (just looking over your notes doesn't count), you won't have to study much when the mid-term or final exam arrives. A drop of water a day eventually gets the whole ocean filled. Never be fooled about the potency of baby steps' accumulation of benefits. Students who retrieve class notes every day (aka: write out big concepts of the day by heart and in your own words) to ensure new information is locked permanently in your long-term memory day after day will reduce their final exam preparation time by at least 50% because 90% of what you need to know had been consistently distilled into your long-term memory 2 months ago starting on the first day of class. Yes, students who do this are already ahead in the race to ace exams, but very few students actually apply this longstanding method. Students need to start learning the necessary content early on, so they don't need to do intensive studying later on (cramming). Pay now or pay later. In this case, pay now or study now makes content absorption much easier because cognitive memory has an expiration date just like food. If we don't make use of our fresh memory right away, it will grow stale and then it will become much harder to revive. Study as you learn is worth the price of long-term investment. In the academic world, study now really pays. That is, study as you go pays dividends in effectiveness and efficiency. Most of all, it will give you the highest cognitive return on investment. That's priceless.

Benefit #2: It lightens your study load when you really need it to

Often, students forget that their academic demands and personal obligations only escalate as the semester goes on, especially during finals week where one might have three exams on the same day. This is a factor a student cannot control, but the student does have control over how to allocate study time well in advance for those three exams by maximizing efficiency and minimizing stress by doing some of the studying ahead of time to keep their plate less full thereby allowing room for time management flexibility. This is where we will see the distinct benefit of studying materials every day to make sure ourselves are caught up in every class, cognitively speaking. For example, if you have been studying as you go for English 101 and History 107, then you will only need to review an hour or two for each class by the end of the semester. As a result, you will feel prepared for the final exam. Because you are set in those two classes, this naturally will leave you some time to devote to Philosophy 101, a harder class, where you could use 2-3 hours thoroughly reviewing some high-caliber concepts despite you did study every day already. The beauty of making sure you remember big concepts as you learn them from day one is, it will allow you to not feel stressed if you need to add another item to your plate because life never stops. Bottom line: committing big concepts to memory consistently and daily will leave you with more time to put out other fires or attend to your other academic needs that happen along the way unexpectedly without sacrificing your mental health and academic effectiveness.

Benefit #3: Fortify your long-term memory as you go

Discovered a century ago, spaced repetition or studying daily is the learning method that has the power to significantly improve long-term memory. Distributed practice is perhaps the most potent learning technique to remember learning content longer with less time in each study session. Caveat: one must do it consistently every day in order to experience its sheer power. Its potency lies solely in the fact that this academic technique aligns completely with the inner working of the human brain as countless research has proven that the brain does not have the capacity to store a huge amount of information in a short amount of time (The Guardian). That's why incremental studying (distributed practice/spaced repetition) over a course of a semester practically cements information in the student's brain which makes exam time feel weightless and effortless because the student took the proactive route to give the brain time to soak in the information slowly as in a few sips a day but consistently every day leading up to exam time, which illuminates a whole new meaning to the phrase "slowly but surely" the results will come. Simply put, committing concepts to memory as soon as you learn them daily just works from an academic and neurological perspective.

Benefit #4: Deepen your understanding of learning content

Not only will the brain be able to store more information over time when you're using spaced repetition, the student's understanding of the materials also gets deepened by studying a little each day. When you review concepts each day, your brain is also current with what the teacher just taught. Prior knowledge is the determinant factor in how fast a student can process and assimilate to new learning. Therefore, it is critical that the student remains current with the knowledge that the teacher just taught because a thorough understanding of yesterday's lesson translates to an even greater understanding of today's lesson. The human cognitive functions and development are made of foundational building blocks and the process is often sequential. Rehearsing major learning concepts regularly through spaced repetition will help a student stay current with what they learn and that makes new learning much easier, which in the end means saving more time and remembering more of what you had learned. It prevents shallow understanding of concepts which makes forgetting very easy. An academic understanding is a cognitive cycle that builds one layer on top of another, if spaced repetition is diligently reinforced to witness long-term results.

Do understand that the human brain has limitations, but by understanding its limitations, we can learn to leverage it well. Do also remember: the brain can't operate like a fast food drive-in where information simply zips in and zips out whenever and wherever. The brain functions best like a house that you love and you keep it looking great by taking care of it every day year after year. Now, that's ROI!


Thuy Truong, M.A. Ed.

I am a licensed professional educator, executive function expert, former tenured high school teacher and college instructor with 16 years experience. I am also a student success designer. I enjoy recognizing the missing puzzle in the student's learning and personalizing that solution in a language that is unique to that student. I love the creative challenge of inventing a new language for every child.

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