We all know most students prefer to wait till the last moment to cram and hope they remember it long enough to pass the test. I've heard stories of students who stayed up all night and then were so tired they filled an entire blue book with a single word yet were convinced when they walked out, they had written the best essay ever. Until they got it back with a big red F scrawled across the front of the book.
A few years ago, I took a summer course which promoted the idea of introducing the material a few days before it was taught and continue exposing children to the material after. The idea is to expose students to the material everyday over a 21 day period so they retained it better.
Recently, a new idea has emerged where rather than concentrating on one skill, one should study several related skills together so as to mix the skills up. This is shown to improve retention and understanding. Now, a new study shows if a person breaks up two study sessions with sleep, it can create long lasting and effective learning.
The study selected 40 adults to either work on learning certain Swahili words. The group who studied at night, slept, and studied the next morning did much better in three ways. They had better retention, relearned words faster, and retained the information better than those who studied during in the morning and again at night.
This seems to support something I heard years ago. I was told that if you read the material each evening a little while before going to bed, you are more likely to retain it and this new study seems to give credence to that idea.
Remember, sleep is important in memory formation so perhaps our brain is working on memorizing the material while we sleep. There are three stages to learning material. First is the acquisition where we are introduced to new material while the second stage is consolidation or the time when the memory becomes stable. Finally is recall where the brain is able to access material stored in the brain.
It appears that sleep helps the brain consolidate memories by creating stronger neural connections that form our memories. Consolidation is the only step which occurs during sleep. The other two only happen when the person is awake.
This may be why sleeping between two study sessions improves learning. I'd love to hear what you think. Thanks to Josh Fisher for arousing my curiosity to find out more.