3 Surprising Learning Hacks to Use on Your Next Test

Making sure you are able to memorize facts can be the key to passing a test. Try these three surprising hacks next time you hit the books.

Wish you had a better way to remember information?

There’s much to learn and remember in school: facts, names, dates, formulas. Everything blurs together until you can’t remember a thing.

Luckily, there’s a lot of research about how your brain learns and recalls. The learning hacks listed below are scientifically proven to improve your brain’s ability to remember information.

Next time you’re cramming for a test or listening to a lecture, use these easy tricks to boost your memory — and your grades!

1. Doodle in class.

Doodling gets a bad rap in the classroom. When you’re scribbling in your notebook, your teacher may assume you’re not paying attention, but recent research suggests that this is a misconception.

Neuroscientists have noticed that doodling can help you focus and retain information. These drawings don't have to be related to the content; subjects in their studies drew random patterns and designs spontaneously.

In a study published in 2009 by Applied Cognitive Psychology, subjects who doodled while listening to a list of names were later able to recall almost 30% more names than subjects who didn’t doodle.

There’s one caveat researchers discovered: doodling will interfere with trying to recall images, since the brain’s visual processing is split between two tasks. This means you shouldn't doodle while studying maps for geography class, for example.

2. Study with a partner.

Reciting facts by yourself won’t necessarily help you remember them. Some studies have suggested that collaborative learning boosts your ability to recall information later.

In a 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, researchers confirmed that subjects who reviewed material collaboratively had better recall than those who studied alone. Those who reviewed with others more than once performed even better.

3. Choreograph the facts.

Scientists have long known that the body plays an important role in cognition. In recent years, they’ve discovered that you can use the connection between the mind and body to boost your memory.

To use this learning hack, take advantage of something scientists call “the enactment effect.” Simply put, if you act out a fact with a gesture or action, you’ll be better able to remember that fact later on. The action needs to be congruent with the idea — in other words, it should be connected with that fact, not just be a random gesture.

Next time you need to remember a complicated formula or historical tale, choreograph some motions to act it out.

If your teacher asks why you’re dancing in silence during your next test, show her the research. She might make dancing a part of her curriculum!


Black, J., Segal, A., & Tversky, B. (2014). Conceptually congruent actions can promote thought. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition. Retrieved from The Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition

Blumena, H. M., Rajaram, S., & Young, K. E. (2014). Optimizing group collaboration to improve later retention. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition. Retrieved from The Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition

Madan, C., & Singhal, A. (2012). Using actions to enhance memory: effects of enactment, gestures, and exercise on human memory. Frontiers in Psychology. 3(507). Retrieved from The National Institutes of Health

McDermott, K. B., & Naaz, F. (2014). Is recitation an effective tool for adult learners? Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition. Retrieved from The Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition

Shellenbarger, S. (2014). The Power of the Doodle: Improve Your Focus and Memory. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from The Wall Street Journal

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