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Learning strength: you be the judge.

Volunteers in psychology experiments usually cannot judge whether they have actually learned new information presented by the researchers. In one study, for instance, volunteers perused a series of noun pairs and, immediately after seeing each item, rated their confidence that they could remember the word duo. A memory test a few minutes later revealed that those with the most confidence scored no better than those expressing great doubt about learning the same items

But a new study suggests that people can indeed monitor their learning progress if they follow a simple rule: After studying a piece of information, wait at least a minute or two before gauging whether it persists as a secure memory. This rule has many practical implications, say psychologists Thomas O. Nelson and John Dunlosky of the University of Washington in Seattle. For example, high school students preparing for a French vocabulary test could evaluate their learning progress and allocate study time most efficiently by allowing for a delay between word study ("chateau means castle") and the mental monitoring of word knowledge ("How well do I know the English translation of chateau?").

Nelson and Dunlosky instructed 30 college students to study 60 pairs of unrelated nouns. Each pair appeared on a computer screen for eight seconds. For half the items, participants examined the pair and immediately rated their confidence (from 0 to 100 percent) in their ability to recall the second word when prompted with the first word on a test to be administered 10 minutes later. For the other items, they rated their confidence levels about five minutes after studying each noun pair.

When tested, volunteers recalled nearly half the items correctly, regardless of whether they had judged their recall ability on an immediate or delayed basis. As in earlier studies, immediate confidence ratings proved highly inaccurate. However, delayed ratings predicted performance almost flawlessly, the team reports in the July Psychological Science.

Accurate assessments of learning depend on the scanning of material stored in long-term memory, Nelson and Dunlosky contend. But immediate learning judgments may trigger a scan of both short-term and long-term memory, they propose. Other studies suggest that new information is stored for no more than 30 seconds before either gaining long-term status or fading from memory. Thus, an immediate judgment may often mistake early recall for a lasting memory.
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Title Annotation:technique for monitoring learning progress
Publication:Science News
Date:Aug 10, 1991
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