Have you heard about the Production Effect?
This little known but vitally important area of research may hold the key to why some students remember more of their revision than others. It’s simple, evidence based and very effective. Here’s a quick rundown…
What is the Production Effect?
The Production Effect describes how doing something with the material you’re studying helps increase the chances of ingraining it into long-term memory. Basically, by producing something with the material, the learner is actively engaged in strengthening the connections in their brain, as opposed to passively letting it wash over them.
The research behind the Production Effect
A notable study found that reading words out-loud is more effective than reading them in silence. This is because the learner produces more from the content as they see, say, and hear themselves saying the words.
Indeed, a recent review supported this, suggesting that the production effect was an efficient and effective way of improving learning and memory. Recent research also showed that the production effect led to better recall of both lists of words and paragraphs over a week after they had been initially studied.
Why is the Production Effect effective?
Students should look to use the production effect when revising, as it allows for studied material to be retained for a much longer period of time.
The production effect is thought to lead to an improvement in the memory of information, because translating content from one modality to another (e.g. from a visual form to an auditory form) enhances its distinctiveness. This subsequently increases the likelihood of it being successfully transferred to the long-term memory store.
Examples of the Production Effect
- Reading out loud – This article goes into more depth about why this helps;
- Retrieval Practice – Generating an answer to a question makes us think more about the study material;
- Dual Coding – Drawing pictures alongside words creates more learning content;
- Writing things out – This fascinating study suggests that typing words out (and even imaging that you have typed them out) is a better way to remember words than not;
- Drawing – Drawing has been found to enhance memory of both individual words and textbook definitions;
- Work with a study partner – It has been found that seeing someone else produce information with the study material will also have a beneficial effect (though not as effective as doing it oneself);
- Flashcards – Using the above strategy by writing out the question and answer, testing oneself on it and saying the answer out-loud produces lots from the study material;
- Singing – Similar to reading out-loud, research says this can be quite effective.
What does poor revision look like?
The production effect helps students learn because it prompts them to think harder and for longer about the material that they are studying. As well as teaching them how to revise, it is also worth noting that educating students about common revision mistakes is beneficial. These include:
Simply re-reading notes
Recent research has found that 86% of students re-read their notes when revising, whilst 55% claimed this was their number one strategy. However, re-reading has been shown by countless studies to be an ineffective revision strategy, because it doesn’t encourage students to consider nor process the information they are reading.
Cramming at the last minute
Just like athletes shouldn’t leave all their training until the day before the event, students cannot perform to their maximum if they try and cram all their revision into the last few days before an exam.
Cramming is the opposite of spacing, which has been found to help boost students’ exam results by 10 to 30%. If students space out their revision, they give themselves time to forget previously learnt information, meaning that when it is re-visited and re-learnt stronger memory traces are created.
Too many distractions
Many students believe that they can multi-task, hence they can revise effectively whilst also using their phone.
However, multi-tasking is a myth; research has shown that the mere presence of a phone can cause a 20% decline in task performance. This is also one of the reasons that students who listen to music while revising tend to do worse in their exams.
Not all revision strategies are equal. Those that can be done on autopilot decrease the likelihood of being remembered later on.
By utilising the production effect (that is producing something with the key material), students are more likely to engage with the topic and as such think deeper about the content. As a result, their learning, performance and exam results will increase.