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Best Study Skills 1: Reduce Interference

Interference may cause confusion when the time comes to recall the material. The brain can mix up new information with what was learned before.

For example, suppose you met several people at a business conference last week. Then, you met several more people at a party last night. Interference may cause you to confuse the names of people at the conference with those you met at the party and vice versa.

Overlearn the Material

The better you know the material, the less likely that interference will occur. To overlearn, continue studying past the point where you can just barely recall the information.

For example, suppose you need to memorize Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, a famous speech given by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Rather than stopping after you are able to remember the speech just once without mistakes, continue studying it further to achieve better mastery.

Research shows that overlearning strengthens memory for any material, and one of the ways it does this is by reducing possible interference.

Make It Meaningful

Another way to reduce interference is to make the information more meaningful. To best remember what you are learning, the material needs to make sense rather than just be learned by rote. Interference can still happen even with meaningful material, but it will occur less often.

Some ways you can make what you are learning more meaningful include:

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1. Familiarity:

The more you know about a subject the easier it is to learn new material related to it. For example, experienced chess players are able to memorize new moves more quickly than other people who are not familiar with chess.

To my way of thinking, the principle of familiarity is one of the many benefits of being a life-long learner interested in a wide range of subjects. Something you learn today may help you learn related material sometime in the future.

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2. Rhymes:

If you can convert the information you want to remember into a rhyme, it will be more meaningful and therefore easier to remember. You have probably heard such mnemonic rhymes as "In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue," or "I before E, except after C."

For example, when learning a list of codes, identify repeating patterns or rules that can help you quickly memorize subsections of the list.

While it may take you a few moments to construct a rhyme for a given piece of information, you'll reap the benefit of familiarity that will help you remember the material later.

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3. Patterns:

In the same way that rhymes make information more meaningful, patterns do the same. Look for patterns in any material you want to learn.

For example, when learning a list of codes, identify repeating patterns or rules that can help you quickly memorize subsections of the list.

When memorizing phone numbers or other long numbers, break the numbers of into memorable patterns if possible. If you need remember the number 345376388391, it helps to notice that every fourth number is a "3", as in 345-376-388-391.