PORN! And how it can affect your GPA

By Emmalyn Paul

Introduction

It’s the moment of truth. You’re sitting in your seat, ready to open the test booklet for your first COLLEGE final exam. You’re sweating, breathing heavy, the end is NEARLY in sight. You hear “All I Want For Christmas is You” playing in the back of your mind as you take the FINAL leap before Christmas. You open the book and stress overwhelms you. You can’t seem to remember ANY of the questions on the first two pages. All you can remember is the information from the chapter you JUST finished last week. This, my friend, is the perfect example of retroactive interference (RI). This occurs when new information that you have recently learned makes it difficult to recall old information you have learned (1). Somehow you manage to push your way through. As you move from question to question the information starts to come back to you. You begin to remember all you studied from those first few chapters…so much so that when you get to the end of your test booklet, you find yourself having a difficult time recalling the chapters you just learned last week! WHAT?! How could this be possible?? Well, it is, and it’s a process that is called proactive interference (PI). This occurs when old information you have learned gives you difficulty remembering new information you have learned (1). In order to find ways to combat these interferences, you must first fully understand them and, most importantly, remember which is which. Well, all you little freshies with your mind in the gutter are in luck, because have I got an acronym for you! When in doubt, just think “PORN”: Proactive=Old, Retroactive=New.

But Wait, Which is Which?

To help you better understand the difference between proactive and retroactive interference, let us take a look at a real world example that Kevin Darby and Vladimir Sloutsky present in their article “The Cost of Learning: Interference Effects in Memory Development”. Think of all of those years of schooling when every year the teacher continually calls you by the wrong name. This is because of PI! Teachers have SO many previous students that it makes it difficult to learn and recall so many new names. However, as the year goes on and they get used to seeing you each day, it becomes more difficult for them to recall students from past years. This is now a result of RI (2).

So now that we understand proactive and retroactive interference, the real question is how can we prevent you from running into the testing situation above? Luckily, research shows a number of study tactics that students can use to reduce the effects of PI and RI. First, let’s take a look at RI.

Retroactive Interference

One of the primary ways to reduce RI is through the use of retrieval practice. Retrieval practice is a study method that requires students to recall information rather than simply looking it up. The struggle that comes along with retrieving the information from memory is exactly what helps the information stick better (3). A study by Darby and Sloutsky observing the effects of retrieval practice on RI found the following results: the accuracy of participants’ memory for lists of words that were studied through retrieval practice was much higher than the accuracy for lists of words that were not studied through retrieval practice (2). Now you might be asking yourself, how do I study using retrieval practice? Fortunately, there are multiple resources that can help with this. Websites like Quizlet have testing options that you can use to answer questions and test your knowledge. Many textbooks also offer questions throughout the chapters that you can complete. Just remember to close those notes and recall the answers on your own!

Another helpful study tip to reduce RI is to study similar information using different methods. Throughout an academic course, the information you’re learning is all connected to create one big cohesive unit. You also might find yourself taking similar classes in the same semester. This can give you difficulty keeping information from one course separate from another, resulting in RI. Through using different study methods, your brain encodes the information differently, making it easier to keep it all organized in your brain. Two beneficial (and different) study methods to help reduce RI are visual and verbal studying (4). Verbal studying can include tactics like teaching and explaining concepts to a friend or family member to help you study. Visual studying can include reviewing diagrams/tables, watching videos, and looking at pictures. To even further your understanding, it can be incredibly helpful to create your own concept maps or tables to organize information in a way that you best understand.

Proactive Interference

Now that you have some good study tips under your belt for RI, let’s discuss some tips to help reduce the effects of PI. Research done by Willa Bass and Karl Oswald shows reduction of PI through the use of the method of loci. So what the heck is the method of loci? The method of loci is a tactic that requires you to imagine “items to be remembered” in different locations. This creates visual imagery which aids in better memory (1). Bass and Oswald found that this method can help reduce PI by lessening the “competition” between the retrieval of different information. As discussed before, our brains encode information differently to help with memory, but the environment of where the encoding is taking place can even further assist our memory (5). So when studying, it can be beneficial to study different information in different locations. Say, for example, you study for a Spanish test at your desk in your room. Later that week, try taking your English notes to the library to study. Your brain will encode all of the information with the context of your location “in mind” (pun intended!). When sitting down for each of these tests, imagine sitting at your desk or in the library when you hit a difficult question. It may help you retrieve the answer!

The next tip for reducing PI might shock you a bit. One of the most common fears of college freshman is the fear of getting NO SLEEP EVER. Some students take this approach and can do fine on some of their tests, but in the long run, staying up all night to study is not doing you any favors on test day. Magdalena Abel and Karl-Heinz Bäuml studied the beneficial effects of sleep on the reduction of PI. These two researchers knew that previous studies had shown sleep’s effect on RI, but they wanted to find out whether or not it had an effect on PI. They ended up finding that sleep reduces both interferences almost equally, if not reducing PI a little more. The reason is because of something called “memory consolidation”. By going to sleep after studying, Abel and Bäuml found that memories are “reactivated” during sleep, causing them to become more stable and solid in the brain. Because of this stabilization, interference becomes less likely when recalling information for something like a test (6). Time management is key for this tip. It is important to alot time for studying so that you are able to sleep and consolidate those memories!

Conclusion

So, fellow college freshman, our time together is coming to a close. With this newfound information, please go into your finals with more studying done than just rereading or highlighting your notes. Use these study tips to reduce the effects of PORN on your GPA. Good luck, my friend.

References

  1. Goldstein, E. B. (2015). Chapter 5 & 6. In Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience (4th ed., pp. 128-158). Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.
  2. Darby, K. P., & Sloutsky, V. M. (2016). The Cost of Learning: Interference Effects in Memory Development. Manuscript submitted for publication, PubMed Central. Retrieved November 24, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4388774/
  3. What is retrieval practice? – Retrieval Practice. (2018). Retrieved November 24, 2018, from https://www.retrievalpractice.org/why-it-works
  4. Cumming, J. M., & De Miranda, M. A. (2012). Reducing Retroactive Interference through the Use of Different Encoding Techniques: An Exploration of Pre-Test/Post-Test Analyses. International Journal of Higher Education, 1, 22-26. Retrieved November 24, 2018, from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1055345.pdf
  5. Bass, W. S., & Oswald, K. M. (2014, June 09). Proactive control of proactive interference using    the method of loci. Retrieved November 24, 2018, from     https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4116757/
  6. Abel, M., & Bäuml, K. T. (2013, April 5). Sleep Can Reduce Proactive Interference. Retrieved    November 27, 2018, from  https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/3e3a/052b93fd359b2ab1b3255800827666a70d2f.pdf?_ga=2.149921203.447692843.1543463241-755074541.1543463241

 

3 Replies to “PORN! And how it can affect your GPA”

  1. I love this! I really like how you broke down proactive and retroactive into their own categories so that they are an easier read. I admit, the title caught me off guard. It was great! Overall, great work!

  2. Great Post! I enjoyed the read, really engaging! Bold title but I have to admit that was effective in drawing someones attention

  3. Attention grabbing title, haha! Great read, I really like your writing style. Easy to follow and you really take away a good understanding of the material.

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