Learning to Learn: One Student's Personal Journey

Learning to Learn: One Student's Personal Journey

By: Rachel Adragna

Before taking cognitive psychology with Dr. Miko Wilford, I was unaware of the research on studying and how different types of studying led to learning. I believed that the effectiveness of studying was based primarily on the individual's interest and engagement with the material. This led me to study less for subjects that interested me. I believed that my interest in the classwork and homework time interest was enough to make the information stick in my memory. This also led to me "engaging," without a direction, with the material that did not seem to come so easily. I was not getting the results I was looking for, which were higher understanding and improved grades, but I did not know what I was doing wrong.

My material engagement consisted of rereading my textbook and notes, and rewriting my notes in various forms. Everything I thought about learning – repetition and variety – told me that this would be effective. My efforts resulted in me exposing myself to the same information over and over and not actively using much of it.

In cognitive psychology, I learned about the testing effect. The testing effect is the process by which information is learned and retrieved by the student, and it increases the strength of that knowledge to persist over time and under the accumulation of new knowledge.

As soon as I learned about this method, I started trying it out. By adopting the methods of testing, such as by flash card use and trying to recall information without help from my notes, I was practicing my test-taking abilities with the very information I was soon going to be tested on. The information I was learning and testing myself with was becoming easier to retrieve and apply to various contexts.

The testing effect has also changed my perception of my mind as a muscle. By strengthening the pathways that retrieve certain information, I can do so quicker and more efficiently in the future. I think of this when I cannot remember the recipe, the right word for something, or the answer to any real life question. I could bypass the testing effect by asking someone, Googling the answer; or I could try and retrieve it from memory. Knowing that next time I need this information, the testing effect will increase my ability to retrieve it and I will not again have to look at outside sources, I am more likely to give myself a few more minutes to try and recall the answer.