By Paige Shepard
Have you ever taken a class in high school where you were given some kind of material to read, and of course, you didn’t complete it..right? We all know it didn’t matter if you actually read the material because the teacher would go over it the next day in class. Or something like that. Well, don’t get used to that. Soon, you’ll get to college and it is a repeated cycle of going to class, sitting down, watching the power point presentation, listening to the professor speak about it and taking notes about what is being seen, read and heard. Sometimes, get this, the professor doesn’t even USE a power point. You have to take notes on the words that come out of their mouth. Therefore, you have to PAY ACTUAL ATTENTION in class, crazy right? All the while, you’re wondering if any of this is benefiting your ability to remember the new information being taught and crammed into your brain.
We have all experienced classes that we have attended and left the room and felt confident that we have actually learned absolutely nothing at all. If you haven’t yet, you soon will. However, be smart, because when it comes to studying and getting good grades, most students think all it takes is to read over the material last minute and believe they will remember all of that fresh incoming information when it comes to the time that it needs to be recalled. When reading over all the materials for the exam that you’re taking tomorrow in class, you are probably not going to retain any of it unless you engage in active thinking and be creative. According to the generation effect, we should change the way we study for exams or study to remember information.
If we were to read over new material in a short amount of time, there is a good possibility it will not be remembered or taken in correctly. The generation effect states a phenomenon that information is far better remembered if it is generated from your own mind rather than just simply read and heard(1).It is known to increase conceptual and semantic processing along with cognitive effort and item distinctiveness(2).Using the generation effect, we take our own active roles in creating the material which is a strong way to achieve encoding and good long-term retrieval(3). For example, if your class was split into two groups and your professor gave group A related words such as light-bulb; hair-brush; queen-crown to just simply read and gave group B light-bu__; hair-br___;queen-cr___; etc to fill in the blank with a word that relates to the given first word, group B would be able to reproduce and remember more words than group A. Reason being is because they had to put more effort and more thought to fill in the blanks rather than just reading and attempting to remember.
Norman Slameka and Peter Graf demonstrated the generation effect in a similar way concluding that the example group that used fill in the blank has many important implications in studying for exams(4). Generating ideas and examples help a person better remember and recall information. The generation effect is a perfect example of memory retrieval and how it enhances later memory performance.
Applied to studying
You may be wondering, how will the generation effect make a difference in studying for college course classes, before you just read and forget, don’t give up on me yet. In everyday life for a college student, we consistently get told to read in some way, shape, or form but it is not everyday that we get told to challenge ourselves and use our minds to creatively read or simply remember. Norman Slameka and Peter Graf demonstrated the generation effect in a similar way as above concluding that the example group that used fill in the blank rather than just reading and skimming has many important implications in studying for exams(4). Along with a similar example as Norman Slameka and Peter Grafs, you could generate a word from its antonym or from its anagram(4). Another good way to use the generation effect while studying for tests or exams is test yourself by giving yourself test questions during or after reading(4). Making up question and answering questions later involve active engagement and benefit the reader.
So now, when attending a ridiculously hard class, which trust me, you’ll see too many of these during your college years *tears fall*
remember to take advantage of the brain that you have. Sit in class and creatively think about what the professor is saying, reading, and explaining even if it does seem super pointless to you, your education, or your major. As you are studying and reading, apply the generation effect by forming your own questions, comparing the ideas, or just simply coming up with creative or weird ways to remember the information(5). I mean, remembering is the goal here.
On a serious note, please do not wait last minute and expect yourself to do good on a test that you didn’t use your brain to study for. Trust me, you look really stupid complaining about failing a test when all you did was read over the information the night before. I’d know. Even if you think I am clueless and completely wrong because I am no genius, it doesn’t hurt to try new studying habits when you realize yours aren’t working. Therefore, when reading or studying, challenge yourself to be creative and generate things in the mind in order to remember what is being read.
1 Staniland, J., Colombo, M., & Scarf, D. (2015). The generation effect or simply generating an effect? Journal of Comparative Psychology, 129(4), 329–333. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0039450Fomerantz,J.R., & Kubovy, M. (1986). Theoretical approaches to perceptual organization. In K.R. Boff, L. Kaufman, & J.P. Thomas (Eds.), Handbook of perception and human performance (Vol.2, pp.361-36.46). New York: Wiley.
2 Rosner, & Alexander, Z. (2013, September 20). The Generation Effect and Memory. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/4r623773
3 Mulligan, N. W., Smith, S. A., & Buchin, Z. L. (2018). The generation effect and experimental design. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. https://doi.org/10.1037/xlm0000663
4 Fomerantz,J.R., & Kubovy, M. (1986). Theoretical approaches to perceptual organization. In K.R. Boff, L. Kaufman, & J.P. Thomas (Eds.), Handbook of perception and human performance (Vol.2, pp.361-36.46). New York: Wiley.
5 The generation effect revisited: Fewer generation constraints enhances item and context memory. (2016, July 15). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0749596X16300523?via=ihub