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How testing improves memory

Quizzes inspire keywords that spur recall

2:45pm, October 14, 2010

Quick — learn these Swahili words: wingu means cloud, a lulu is a pearl and zabibu means grape.

Covering up the words and quizzing yourself is a better learning strategy than repeatedly reading the words, psychologists reported in the Oct. 15 Science. Self-testing strengthens the memory by creating keywords as clues for retrieving the word pairs later on.

Scholars have long known the value of self-quizzing: “Exercise in repeatedly recalling a thing strengthens the memory,” Aristotle wrote more than 2,000 years ago. But psychologists weren’t sure why.

A pair of researchers at Kent State University in Ohio hypothesized that when studying, say, a foreign language, students invent keywords to help trigger the right word. To remember that wingu is a cloud, for example, a student might use the word wing to think of a bird flying in the clouds.

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