Why your environment matters why you learn things 为什么你的环境對你的學習很重要
Consider an everyday situation: You get up from your desk to have a cup of tea. Once you arrive in the kitchen, you forget what you wanted. However, when you get back to your desk, you suddenly remember.
Scientists have discovered that memories are heavily context-dependent. Context is essentially anything that is present during encoding (for instance the environment we are in). Our brains seem to encode the context as a part of the memory trace as if taking a snapshot of everything that is around us at the moment of creating the memory.
Successful retrieval of the memory trace then depends to some degree on the re-activation of the context in which it was encoded. Since the intention to have a cup of tea was encoded with the context of standing up from your desk, coming back to the kitchen re-activated the intention to have a cup of tea.
To combat context-dependence, you can adopt the same two approaches used for overcoming state-dependence. The first approach would be to emulate the environmental context of the test. For instance, you could revise in a quiet/noisy environment depending on where your exam will be situated. You may also consider revising together with a friend or two to get used to being distracted by other people in the examination room. An even better idea would be to revise in the classroom where you will be taking the test.
The second approach would be to revise in as many different contexts as possible. Studies have shown that students who revise in many different rooms prior to their test perform better than those who study in one room only (with a 30% improvement in test performance).
Since the environmental context keeps changing, the information effectively becomes context-independent. In other words, you teach yourself how to retrieve the studied material in any kind of circumstance, which is extremely useful given that fact that you often cannot predict the exact circumstances you will face during the exam.
The context of study need not be only environmental. The particular questions and practice tests you use also become the context that is encoded with your study material. Therefore, the more questions you practice on for a given concept, the more neural connections the brain has to generate between different contexts and the target concept. The more routes the brain has built, the easier it is to retrieve the concept later. This is because retrieval becomes less dependent on the particular starting point – the type of question asked or its particular wording.
The impact of this kind of context-sensitivity is particularly important when creating flashcards. If the question side of your flashcard contains irrelevant information, or information that won’t be present when you really need to remember, you may not be able to recall it when you need it.