You Learn Material Better If You Think You’re Going to Teach It

Need to learn something quickly? Here’s a trick: pretend you’re going to have to explain it to someone later.

A study published in Memory & Cognition has found that people learn material better if they think they’re about to teach it when compared to those who think they’re about to be tested on it. Researchers split fifty undergraduates into two groups. Both had ten minutes to study a 1,500 word article on the “Charge of the Light Brigade”, and they couldn’t take notes. However, one group was under the impression that they’d have to teach another student what they’d learned, while the other was told that they’d have to take a test on the article’s content.

In fact, both groups had to take a test, although it was twenty-five minutes after the students had a chance to study. The group who thought they’d be teaching did better: they recalled more key points, they did so more quickly, and their answers were better organized, reflecting the article they’d studied.

So, the next time you’re out to learn something—a new language, how to drive stick, or whatever—imagine having to teach it to someone else. Chances are, you’ll do better.

Photo courtesy of Alan Berning.

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