The New York Times posted an interesting article about the benefits of taking a test to enhance your learning experience. Based on research published in the journal Science, those who took a test after studying had 50% better retention rates than those who tried two other methods.
What are the other methods, you ask?
One of those methods — repeatedly studying the material — is familiar to legions of students who cram before exams. The other — having students draw detailed diagrams documenting what they are learning — is prized by many teachers because it forces students to make connections among facts.
Researchers worked with 200 college students on two experiments to test retention rates and study methods. Although I highly recommend reading the full article for all the study details, the group of students that performed the best in the experiments followed these instructions:
The final group took a “retrieval practice” test. Without the passage in front of them, they wrote what they remembered in a free-form essay for 10 minutes. Then they reread the passage and took another retrieval practice test.
How can you apply this to your own studies? Simply test your retention the day following a study session. Write a free-form essay, recalling as many details as possible. Afterwords, refer to your notes and assigned reading to see how much you remember, and where the information gaps are. Reread and repeat as needed.