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The things you wish your teachers taught you in High School

Updated: Jan 6, 2021

Dear Study Buddies,

Today is the Chemistry Exam. In the last three days you have read your entire textbook, reviewed all the notes, YouTubed power points, and wrote a Harry Potter novel sized pile of flashcards. Despite all the cramming that has taken place in the last 72 hours, that test in front of you mine as well be written in Klingon. You have no idea where Iron falls on the periodic table. You don’t know if Pr represents Praseodymium or Puerto Rico. You can’t remember what H20 stands for and you are just hoping you spelt your name right. What happen? Well, there are those out there that are capable of amazing feats of memory and then there is you – the average teenager. It is time to make some changes to your studying approach.

Let’s start with your massed practiced method. By now you have received your grades back and realized; cramming doesn’t work. Enter: Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist who pioneered the study of memory. His research founded the “spacing effect” and the concept of “over learning.” These two ideas will make a huge difference in how successful you are at studying for the next Chemistry exam.

We learn better when studying is spread out over periods of time, rather than when it occurs closer together. This doesn’t mean you have to do the same amount of studying you have done in the last three days, every day. Instead, it suggests you study a little bit of material each day. Wait as long as you can before you forget the material to review it again. As you continue this cycle, the time between reviews will increase. But don’t think you are out of the park just because you have it all memorized. Even when you think you have conquered the material – keep studying. “Students frequently think that they have already mastered the material but then discover when they get to the exam that they have not.”

We have gone over the when to study, how about the where? Context-dependent learning refers to an increase in the ability to remember material when the external situation in which information is learned matches the situation in which it is remembered. Basically, being in the same spot you learned the material helps you retrieve the material later. Try to study the material in the classroom in which you are going to take the exam. If that’s not an option, don’t study in only one place. If you only study the material in your comfy chair at the library, chances are, you will have trouble regurgitating the material at your desk. If you study at the library, at home, in the park, and in classroom; the information isn’t as strongly associated with the where and easier to recall.

Finally, let’s talk about how to study. It might be surprising to learn that repeating something a trillion times in hopes that it will “stick” has as much adherence power as applesauce. Instead of repetition, try association or elaborative encoding. Elaborative encoding is when we process information in a way that makes it more relevant or meaningful to us by associating it with things we already know.

“I heard that Oxygen and Magnesium were going out, and I was like ‘O MG’”


The things you wish your teachers taught you in High School


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