How Neuroscience Can Stop Your Students Cramming and Boost Learning
I’ve always been one of those people who wants to understand why, when it comes to the things I was told. And while I wasn’t exactly a rebel, I always found it difficult to accept rules and advice that just didn’t seem to have a good reason behind them, particularly when I was in school. Why couldn’t I wear trainer socks under my tights to keep my feet warm? Why should I get in trouble for chatting quietly when my friend & I had already finished the assigned reading? And why did my teachers keep stressing the importance of starting our revision early?
Now, as a neuroscientist, I know there was good reason for some of those rules and recommendations (although I still don’t understand the sock thing!) But I wonder how much more likely I’d have been to accept them if my teachers had explained their suggestions were based in solid science, rather than it just being a case of ‘because I said so’.
This was one of my motivations behind developing Mastering Memory - our school science show focusing on learning and memory in the brain  Rather than dry recommendations for memorization techniques and revision strategies, we dive into what’s going on in our amazing brains when we learn something new and how to use this to boost learning and make revision easier and more effective.
For example, we have all heard that cramming is bad, and we should space out our learning- but do you know why? Memories are stored in the brain as networks of neurons, formed by repeatedly activating that network through revisiting the material. But over time, these networks can fade if not used.
Studies have found that it’s best to revise material just as you are starting to forget it- in fact, spacing out your learning can make it twice as effective![i] One theory for this is that the extra effort it takes to remember something you are starting to forget activates the neurons more effectively, and this might just be enough to strengthen that network for the long term[ii]. If you just revise the same thing over and over, it becomes easy, meaning you are no longer activating and strengthening that network in the same way. So when putting together a revision plan it really is best to mix it up and space out different topics – and my teachers were right, last minute revision really isn’t the answer!
As well as useful research like this, the show is packed with fun memory games and interactive activities that help put the learning into context, and give students the chance to think about how they can apply it to their own revision plans. We cover the basic neuroscience of how memories are formed in the brain, and use this understanding to explore science-backed tips to boost learning and make revision easier. These range from ancient techniques used by the romans to cutting edge apps and algorithms designed with neuroscience in mind.
With exam season approaching, now is the perfect time to encourage good learning habits, so why not get in touch to discuss us bringing Mastering Memory to your school. It’s sure to be a memorable experience for your students!
[i] The effect of distributed practice: Neuroscience, cognition, and education - ScienceDirect [ii] Spaced Learning Enhances Episodic Memory by Increasing Neural Pattern Similarity Across Repetitions | Journal of Neuroscience (jneurosci.org)