How Your Brain Processes Information

How Your Brain Processes Information Understanding how the brain works when you learn can help you study more effectively. When you’re in class or studying minimize distractions at any given moment many stimuli or signals are vying for your awareness there may be a fly buzzing around, someone clicking their pen or a pleasant smelling perfume in the air your sensory register takes in all these signals bombarding your system the brain can’t process all these signals at the same time it shifts attention between signals you’ll only remember the signals you pay attention to for example can you remember what car was next to you at the stoplight this morning? chances are you can’t unless there was something significant about it like it was a lime-green Lamborghini that’s because the brain focuses on signals that are stronger or out of the ordinary you might want to multitask but it’s ineffective as a learning strategy if you’re paying attention to Instagram during lecture that’s what you’ll remember from class. Once you pay attention to a signal it’s sent to working memory working memory is the first place new information goes when we are learning eventually we want what we are learning to be encoded into long-term memory but first it has to go into working memory working memory is limited in capacity, how much we can hold there, and duration, how long we can hold it working memory can only hold seven to nine items of information that’s like a phone number and it can only hold that information for five to fifteen seconds working memory explains why cramming doesn’t work in the long term you might be successful at cramming for a midterm but it’s unlikely you can retain what you learned by the final or after the class ends if you don’t rehearse information or there’s too much of it it’s likely you’ll forget it. So to maximize learning break the material into into small bits and then use rehearsal rehearsal strategies to make it stick using varied rehearsal strategies is the best method try creating mnemonic devices such as rhymes, acronyms, or song lyrics you can also create images to go with course content or color code information to make the connections stronger other examples include reviewing notes daily, testing yourself over note cards or having someone quiz you on book questions working memory only has so much space to store information but if you work with it enough encoding will eventually occur. Encoding happens when information is sent from your working memory to your long-term memory the key to encoding is making what you are learning meaningful being able to connect new information to previously learned content or subject you’re passionate about will make it easier to remember real learning depends on being able to retrieve information from long-term memory when it’s needed you have to practice retrieval strategies so that information can be easily pulled back and forth between long-term and working memory you can use self testing or reflection to exercise your retrieval muscles. Learning really is like this giant electrical storm going on in your brain as the signal moves through it learning actually changes the neural structure of your brain the myelin on the neurons strengthens and helps the signal travel faster and more accurately allowing for easier and faster recall of information so if you want to learn better give your brain a workout regiment, minimize distractions, break information into small bits, use rehearsal strategies, make it meaningful, and practice retrieval. For more help with academic success visit the Academic Success Center website at

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