Turns out, studying for hours on end isn’t the best way to learn something new. Great, now they tell us.
New research in the journal Science shows that when it comes to learning information, being tested is what really helps you retain information–not the hours of cramming.
The researchers came to their conclusions by dividing 200 college students into groups and having each student read paragraphs on a scientific subject. The different groups were then instructed either read the information once or read it again and again–in other words, study the material.
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Another group was then immediately given a test on the information, followed by one more chance to read the information and then another test.
When all 200 students were tested a week later, the students who had been tested immediately out performed the other groups.
(More on TIME.com: See TIME’s graphic on worldwide testing)
Scientists aren’t sure exactly why retrieval testing helps people retain info, though psychologist Nate Kornell told the New York Times that the “struggle [of testing] helps you learn, but it makes you feel like you’re not learning. You feel like: ‘I don’t know it that well. This is hard and I’m having trouble coming up with this information.’” Turns out you’ve actually retained more than you think.
So if you’ve ever studied for hours and felt so confident you were going to ace that exam–and then didn’t–now you know why. You should have been doing practice tests instead.