By George A. Boyd © 2001
- Exposure to new information (you give your attention
to reading, a lecture, a video, an audio tape, a television program,
a computer application, or a multimedia presentation)
- Encoding information (you intend to remember it)
- Storage (the brain remembers it for later use)
- Retrieval (you pull it out of memory when you need
If you don't pay attention, you don't learn. Your
brain won't remember things unless you tell it to do so. If you don't
mark the data as something to remember, it won't go into memory (that's
why you underline or highlight written material, or make a mental note
to remember something that is said, or write down important information).
You learn best when you actively process incoming
data (this means you need to be an active learner, thinking along with
the speaker in a lecture, or following the main ideas of the author
of a book). You forgetnot because it isn't still in memorybut
because you can't retrieve it. Successful learners use strategies to
encode their information so they can readily retrieve it.
Types of Learning
Rote Memory - you learn by repeating something
over and over again. Examples include reviewing flash cards, listening
to something several times on a tape, writing something over and over,
going over the words of a speech again and again.
Associative Memory - you use mnemonic strategies
to help you remember. This includes anagrams or abbreviations, poems
or jingles, picturing items in different locations in a garden or other
familiar place, or making a word picture of the item, (so catabolize
becomes cat a ball lies), or matching words with fingers
Cognitive Mapping - forming a conceptual
matrix for understanding. This is also called deep processing or mind-mapping.
Superlearning - you use multi-sensory
modalities, emotion and imagination to fix information into memory.
This is usually done in a light state of hypnotic trance, called an
A lot of people use Rote Memory strategies to cram
for a test. But Rote Memory is usually not retained for very long after
you take your test. You typically forget this type of information unless
you refresh it regularly. It's good for learning multiplication tables,
names of state capitals, and other factual information, but it isn't
helpful in trying to learn abstract, conceptual information.
Associative memory strategies can help you retain
information, but doesnt help you really understand it.
Cognitive Mapping promotes genuine understanding,
and allows you to retain information for a long time.
Superlearning makes new information easier to grasp,
but it is sometimes hard to retrieve information learned in an alpha
Tips for Successful Studying
- Relax before tests, and get into a calm state of
mind. Anxiety shuts down the cerebral cortex, and locks you into the
flight-fright mode of your limbic system. You don't think well in a
state of panic, and you don't remember well, either.
- Get enough rest, so your mind is clear.
- Feed your brain before a test. Make sure you are
getting sufficient choline and the other B-vitamins, phosphorus, essential
fatty acids, good quality proteins and carbohydrates that are easily
- Study regularly throughout the week, not just at
the last minute. Cramming is not a successful strategy to do well on
- Put emotional problems out of your mind when you
are in class, while studying and while test taking. Schedule time to
think about your problems and work them outjust don't do this
during your learning time.
- Have a regular, quiet place to study. Organize your
- Study with a group to go over the key concepts, and
to quiz one another.
- Protect your study time. Don't allow others to distract
- Don't study with music, TV, or other noise in the
background. It makes it harder to concentrate on your study materialand
it may actively contaminate what you are trying to learn with extraneous,
- Set goals for each study session. Review what you
have learned before retiring.
- Determine when is your best time to study. Try to
study at those times if possible.
- Make study and learning a top priority. Say no to
demands that take you away from studying.
When you study, study for mastery of the concepts
of your topic. Start by having questions, by actively inquiring about
your subject matter. You acquire knowledge by remembering information;
understanding by seeing how this information fits together as a whole.
Try asking questions like this as you do your study [We use as an example
questions you may ask to study a Vocational Nursing textbook]:
- What is the purpose of this body system or body part?
How does it affect the body as a whole?
- What is the function of this body part or system?
What do its constituent parts do?
- What are the gross structures of this body part or
system? What are its parts called? What are its microscopic parts? What
important biochemical molecules does it secrete or produce?
- What is healthy or ordered functioning of this body
part? What major tests measure its functioning? What are normal ranges
of these tests?
- How does this body part or system interact with other
body systems? How do changes in the internal or external environment
affect its functioning?
- What are diseases or disordered functioning of this
body part or system?
- What tests or diagnostic procedures are used to determine
the disease of this body part or system?
- What medical procedures are used to restore normal
functioning to this body part or system?
- What medications are used to treat disease in this
body part or system?
- What nursing procedures will I use to help my patients
get better? What are key points that I need to keep in mind to make
sure my patient gets better?
- How can I specifically apply this material in my
clinical experience as a CNA or VN?
Building a cognitive map will help you organize
the data into understanding of the topic you are studying. It allows
you to clearly explain the concept to others or write about it in an
essay test. When you use Rote Memory or Associative Memory strategies,
this may help you retain information to recognize it in a multiple-choice
question, or to fill in a word on a short answer quiz, but it doesn't
give you a real understanding of your subject matter.
You gain understanding by
Make Deep Processing, or acquisition of understanding,
the primary goal of your studying. Use Rote Memory and Associative Memory
strategies to learn new vocabulary, names of medications and medical procedures,
but use Deep Processing to understand why these procedures and medications
are used, and how you will apply this knowledge to your job as a CNA or
VN. [You can use a similar procedure to study your current study topic
and apply it in whatever career you pursue.]
- actively questioning
- gathering information to fill in the gaps in your
- organizing your knowledge in a easily retrievable
- reviewing the material you have learned to see if
you truly grasp it
- creating analogies to make the concept understandable
- thinking about the topic to see if you can discover
connections, similarities and differences
Superlearning begins with a deep fascination,
an insatiable curiosity about the topic. You wish to learn everything
about it. You devour knowledge. You read multiple books. You think deeply
and often about the material. In this heightened state of awareness, you
begin to engage all of your senses, your imagination, with intense concentration.
In Superlearning, you become one with the topic
of your study. You don't merely read or think about a red blood cellyou
become a red blood cell. You see it, you hear it, you taste it, you smell
it, and you feel it. You travel in the blood stream. You feel what it
feels like to incorporate an atom of oxygen, and release it across a capillary
membrane. You feel how it is different to carry an atom of carbon dioxide.
Insights pour into your mind during this heightened learning state. Your
intuition becomes extremely penetrating. You understand systems from subatomic
fields to the living organism, from environment to universe, as a seamless
East Indian philosophers have referred to
this state of mind as Samadhi. Western philosophers have called it Illumination
or Enlightenment. It is a very ecstatic state of experience in which you
acquire knowledge at an accelerated rate.
Some people believe that by entering into a
mild hypnotic state or alpha rhythm, that you can stimulate Superlearning.
New multisensory teaching strategies also seek to evoke this heightened
What is likely true about this state? Its profound
insights may not be readily accessible in normal awareness. You cannot
force or trick the mind into this mode. It usually arises as an intense,
absorbing quest for knowledge. It is a highly creative, temporary state
in which you process information in a unitive state of experience.