How does your mood affect your learning?
Did you know that the conditions you’re in when studying affect you in your test situation? Your goal should therefore be to create the same or similar conditions when studying as there are during the test situation.
I want to tell you about three interesting facts about the way you learn. First of all…
Your memory is state-dependent
That means your physical and mental state. Research has shown that you are more successful in a test situation when you are creating a similar emotional state in the encoding situation.
If you are in a good mood while studying, you will be more likely to remember information when during the test you are in a good mood as well. Your mind relies on cues and similarities in order to remember well.
It works with exercise, walking, standing, music or any other activity.
The same goes for aerobic exercises, standing or walking during studying. You are more likely to remember when doing so during a test as well.
Some of you might enjoy studying with some music on. That is only a good idea if you are listening to music as well when taking the test as well.
Don’t drink and study kids!
Research has also shown that this is true for medication, alcohol, caffeine and other drugs. College students that studied after having a few drinks at their friend’s birthday, were less likely to remember the information when being sober at the test. Chances would be higher if they had a drink before the test too.
Of course, it has to be stated that alcohol and drugs will generally decrease your mental processes and concentration. So try to stay sober in the encoding as well as the retrieving situation.
My tip for you is:
Try to study in the same state that you will be in during the exam. You could, for instance, revise sitting at a desk, while simulating stressful feelings (e.g. by timing your answers), assuming that these conditions will be the same during the exam.
Alternatively it is a good idea to to study in various mental and physical states. The logic behind this is that you never know what kind of state you will be in during your exam. Therefore, it is best to make your memory independent of any particular states. For example, you could revise both when you have a lot of energy and when you are low on energy. Also, it is a good idea to study regardless of the mood you are currently in.
2. Your memory is state-dependent
Consider an everyday situation:
You get up from your desk to have a cup of tea. Once you arrive in the kitchen, you forget what you wanted. However, when you get back to your desk, you suddenly remember.
How is this possible?
Scientists have discovered that memories are heavily context-dependent. Context is essentially anything that is present during encoding (for instance the environment we are in). Our brains seem to take snapshots of our surroundings while we are encoding.
Successful retrieval of the memories then depends to some degree on the re-activation of the context in which it was encoded. Since the intention to have a cup of tea was encoded with the context of standing up from your desk, coming back to the kitchen re-activated the intention to have a cup of tea.
My tip for you is:
You could revise in a quiet/noisy environment depending on where your exam will be situated. You should also consider revising together with a friend or two to get used to being distracted by other people in the same room. An even better idea would be to revise in the classroom where you will be taking the test.
The second approach would be to revise in as many different contexts as possible. Studies have shown that students who revise in many different rooms prior to their test perform better than those who study in one room only.
While it is useful to have the same study area to do your homework, you should try to study for exams at different spots and places in order to create more context and get used to different environments. In other words, you teach yourself how to retrieve the studied material in any kind of circumstance, which is extremely useful given the fact that you often cannot predict the exact circumstances you will face during the exam.
3. How sleep helps you remember
I’m sure you’ve heard of power naps!
While it is common knowledge that sleep deprivation worsens your performance, especially if you don’t sleep enough for a longer period of time, power naps can actually help you remember what you just studied.
What does brain science say?
Learning does not finish with the end of studying. For information to move on to our long-term memory, structural biological changes must take place in the brain tissue. That means new connections between neurons must be formed. Research has shown that you can use sleep as a powerful aid in between your study sessions. You will forget less of the subject studied than if you stayed awake for the same amount of time.
Different stages of sleep
If you decide to give napping a try, it is important to be aware of the different stages of sleep. Napping for the maximum of 20 minutes is effective for restoring your energy. However, it is not enough to reach deeper stages of sleep during which consolidation occurs.
In order to boost your memory, you need to sleep for at least 60 minutes. BUT, napping for 60 minutes has the downside of leaving you in a groggy state for about 30 minutes afterward (because you wake up in the middle of deep sleep). Therefore, it is best to sleep for a full 90 minute cycle. After that, you will both feel refreshed and your memory will benefit.
My tip for you is:
- Schedule your study session in the evening, right before sleep.
- Take a 20-minute nap to restore your energy.
- Take a 90-minute nap after a study session to consolidate your memory.
In conclusion it can be said that what’s important for your memory is…
Simulation & alternation
As stated above, it is always important to simulate your future test situation while studying. This way you will create connections and associations that will be more easily retrievable during a test because you studied concepts in a similar context before (e.g. sitting at a desk, with artificial light, your friend sitting next to you)
If you want to deepen those connections even more, make sure you create as many different associations as possible. Exam situations can be unpredictable and it can be useful to train your brain to perform in any condition. This means you could study outside, inside, standing, walking, when tired, happy or sad…
At the test your brain will be ready for anything 🙂
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