How many of us have told our sons to “study smarter, not harder?” Sounds good, but how do you actually do that?  

In the recently published book, “How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where and Why It Happens”, New York Times science reporter Benedict Carey looks at the science of learning to try to answer this question.  Carey spent his high school years working like crazy to get good grades, but when he was shut out of most of his college choices and ultimately found himself at a state school taking a much more laid back attitude about studying, he became a much better student.  When he became a science reporter he began delving into the research about how the brain learns most efficiently.  The more he uncovered, the more he was convinced that the “grind it out” approach most students take towards their studies is not the best way to learn.

As noted in a recent New York Times review found here, Carey suggests the following ways in which students can study more efficiently and effectively:

*Change study environments from time to time–changing up the study spot can create new associations in the brain and make it easier to recall information later.

*Signal to the brain that the information being studied is important (and should be remembered) by:

 explaining the work to others : ask your son to “teach” you what he is studying; and

reviewing the information for a second time 1-2 days after first studying it.

Carey suggests that leaving the info and returning to it a day or two later  is particularly good for retaining historical events,  vocabulary words, and science definitions.  This also relates to studying for tests:  if the test is a week away, plan two study periods with a 1-2 day gap in between them.  For example, if the test is on Friday, study Monday and review on Thursday, as opposed to waiting until Wednesday and Thursday to grind it out.

*Get good and productive sleep: According to Carey the first half of the sleep cycle helps with retaining facts, and the second half is important for math skills  So if your son has a Spanish test, he should try to go to bed early when in study mode for the test ( to get the best retention ability from his sleep) and review in the mornings.  Math test?  Review before bedtime and sleep a little later to let the brain best process the information.

These are useful tips from which our sons can benefit.  Pass them on!