How We Learn by Benedict Carey [Book Summary – Review]

There is always more to learn, whether you’re a professor or a student, a beginner or an expert.

Success or failure frequently hinges on our ability to remember knowledge. The effectiveness of a beginner pilot’s instruction is crucial since it determines whether or not lives are at stake!

These chapters will assist you in getting the most out of your education. You’ll learn how the brain truly creates memories, and you can use this knowledge to create useful routines to make sure you remember what you’ve learned while you study.

You are learning how your brain functions is an essential step to mastering any job you set your mind to, whether you’re a college student eager to improve your GPA or perhaps a retiree keen to increase your crossword vocabulary!

In the chapters that follow, you’ll also discover:

  • how to recall a party guest’s name;
  • the reasons why listening to the proper music might improve your memory; and
  • how to fast become an authority in recognizing skin rashes.

Buy this book from Amazon

Chapter 1 – Memories are created by cell connections and are kept in certain parts of the brain.

We must first comprehend the fundamentals of the brain to comprehend the most efficient studying and learning techniques. What causes memories to be made? And how can we get them back?

The act of linking several neurons, or cells, which send impulses inside the brain to relay information, results in the development of memories.

When neurons are triggered and then group to form a network of synapses, a network of many linked neurons, a memory is formed, such as your first day of school.

Synapses effectively increase in thickness each time we remember a certain memory. To put it another way, having more giant synapses implies our memory or the network’s data is more quickly stored.

However, memories aren’t all kept in one big knot of synapses in the brain. In actuality, many memory kinds develop in various parts of the brain.

The hippocampus is the part of the brain that creates fresh, consciously remembered information, such as the name of a new acquaintance.

Fascinatingly, individuals whose hippocampus has been removed or damaged may still recall earlier memories, proving that earlier memories are preserved in the neocortex, a part of the brain. This region of the brain is further split into regions that govern our movements and our perception of what we see.

Your brain “searches” for the location of that sensory data when you recall, for instance, your first day at school. Neurons in the area of your neocortex responsible for visual processing would be responsible for storing the memory if you can still vividly recall the dull green color of the school corridor.

You can see why you may remember these memories more clearly if they involve a variety of distinct stimuli, such as colors, odors, or textures, which are retained by several neural networks in various parts of the brain. More connections in more locations equal higher recall.

Chapter 2 – A restful night’s sleep is essential for helping you recall and retain what you have learned.

If you’re a busy person, you could think that sleeping just prevents you from accomplishing your goals. But this is wholly incorrect!

Your brain must get adequate sleep to create and retain new memories. Even though we still don’t fully understand how sleep impacts our bodies and brains, evidence shows that getting enough sleep may improve our ability to comprehend and remember new knowledge.

Participants in one research were divided into two groups and given a memory assignment. Each pair of eggs had a different color and a rank, which were displayed to the various groups. The extent to which the rating was retained by the participants was then assessed.

The participants in one group slept before the exam, whilst the individuals in the other group did not. This was the main distinction between the two groups.

In comparison to the sleepless group, which only recalled 69 percent of the rankings, the data revealed that the group slept much better.

Sleep is crucial. It’s more difficult depending on the sorts of jobs you must do, different sleep phases are more crucial.

You don’t sleep the same way all night long. Therefore, it’s crucial to comprehend whether staying up late or waking up early to sleep would help you study effectively if you have a test tomorrow and still have time to do so.

The initial few hours of sleep you get in the early evening are crucial for memory retention. It is preferable to get a good night’s sleep if you are learning vocabulary terms. It’s more productive to study late at night, though, if you need to use your imagination.

Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is mostly experienced in the early morning hours, is necessary for creative thinking. Therefore, as long as you have a few hours of sleep before the sun rises, it is OK to remain up late and study.

The next chapters will look at practical strategies to learn more quickly and efficiently now that you are aware of how the brain stores and retrieves memories.

Chapter 3 – Varying your study methods can improve your memory, so avoid using the same strategy every time.

A teacher may have advised you to choose a specific time of day for study sessions when you could work independently and without interruptions while you were in school. But other factors affect our capacity for learning in addition to distractions.

It is accurate to say that our environment during a study session typically has an impact on how well we recall what we have studied. While you study, your brain takes in a variety of environmental signals, such as the musty odor of the room and the firm or uncomfortable seat of your chair.

These aren’t simply random observations, either! They are cues that can aid in our ability to recall and access the knowledge we’ve acquired during our study.

This was demonstrated in an experiment where individuals studied word lists while listening to various forms of music. When put to the test, participants could recall twice as many words when the same type of music was playing as opposed to when a different type or no music was present.

The findings of this study demonstrate how environmental cues aided participants in retrieving knowledge they had learned while those signals were present.

Using this knowledge, think about altering your study setting to enable you to access material in any circumstance.

While taking a test, you most likely won’t be able to rebuild your study environment, therefore you could want to switch up your study schedule. You may choose between taking notes manually and on a computer. Or you might study in your kitchen one day and outside the next.

These ostensibly insignificant changes make sure that the knowledge you acquire is stored in various locations across your brain, which, as we’ve shown in earlier chapters, improves retention.

Chapter 4 – Cram now, forget tomorrow: to recall material for the long term, just study in intervals.

Do you tend to study all you need to know the night before an exam? Does this tactic genuinely provide results for you?

You could do well on the test, but you won’t likely retain the information for very long. In actuality, the only way to be certain that you will remember material over a long time is to divide up your study time.

The spacing effect is what we refer to as. Effective memory is impossible to achieve by studying the same information repeatedly in a short amount of time since your brain becomes bored.

Consider how you would try to recall a new neighbor’s name if you were introduced to him at a party. Even if you have heard his name repeated a few times, chances are that by the time you leave you will have forgotten it.

The synapses between the neurons in your initial memory will thicken if you hear your neighbor’s name again a few days later, such as if you overhear him introducing himself to another neighbor. This “new” information will enhance your previous memory and help the name remain in your head.

Therefore, as long as you take advantage of the spacing effect, studying doesn’t have to take up extra time. 

For instance, you have a test in two weeks, and you want to spend nine hours studying. A more successful approach would be to study for three hours on three separate days rather than nine hours the day before the test.

By following this study schedule, you’ll boost your odds of memorizing all the important knowledge without having to spend more time studying since you’ll be more efficient with your time.

Chapter 5 – Testing yourself and sharing your knowledge with others will help you remember what you’ve learned.

You are surely aware of the fact that explaining a topic to someone usually results in a deeper understanding of the topic for yourself.

This is because memorizing information through repetition is more effective than reading it. Instead of just reviewing sections of a book, you should actively test your knowledge if you want to get the most out of what you’ve studied.

Having someone else explain the subject to you is one approach to doing this. The connections between the neurons that hold your knowledge will get stronger when you take the extra time to explain a particular topic, increasing the retrieval of information both easier and faster.

But what if you are unable to find an audience for your expertise? Then what?

Testing yourself can help you learn more about a subject later on, even if you don’t know much about it yet.

Imagine you have to take a multiple-choice exam on a subject you are completely ignorant of. Most of the time, you’d probably guess wrong! The likelihood that you will be able to correctly respond to a relevant question on a subsequent exam is increased by this approach.

Students were asked a few questions on a subject they would learn about a few weeks later by psychologists at the University of California, Los Angeles. After the exam, the students were given the answers.

They afterward compared their previous responses to the outcomes of their final exams after the semester. Unexpectedly, students performed 10% better on questions that were comparable to the ones they responded to at the start of the semester!

Chapter 6 – Interruptions don’t throw you off course; in fact, they might make you a better learner.

Almost everyone struggles with procrastination. We procrastinate before a task, easily sidetracked, until we’re compelled to do it quickly. You’ll realize that it’s simple to break this bad behavior.

Some individuals consider that it is more effective to begin and complete a project as soon as possible; this way, it is finished and they are free from having to worry about it.

However, spreading out a project across more time allows for interruptions and is best for learning.

More time gives us the freedom to think creatively while also helping us remember the lessons we’ve learned from working on our assignments. If you don’t keep the outcomes of a project, what’s the point?

In research, participants were given a variety of brief tasks, such as doing a crossword puzzle. The subjects were sometimes interrupted during the study, preventing them from completing some of the tasks.

When the subjects were then asked to recall every assignment they completed, the researcher discovered that they remembered those activities that they were unable to finish the best.

Allowing for pauses can help you recall your tasks better, and disrupted projects will also stick in your mind and potentially inspire new ideas.

Additionally, taking breaks might help you approach a problem from a fresh angle while you’re attempting to solve it. This is so that you may examine the project with “fresh eyes” and let go of preconceived notions and viewpoints.

So it’s crucial to take a break if you’ve been working on a math issue for a while. Take a stroll before trying again later. You’ll quickly come to understand that your ideas seem to appear out of nowhere and that you frequently come up with answers to your difficulties while you aren’t even thinking about them.

Chapter 7 – The flavor of recollection is variety! Practice many talents at once rather than concentrating on just one.

If you’ve ever taken tennis lessons, your instructor has likely driven the value of repetition into your head: to perfect a backhand drive, practice it over and over and over again.

But is this the best method to learn? Simply put, no.

According to research, a wide emphasis is less successful than a diversified recurrence.

In one study, kids were split into two groups and taught how to throw a beanbag while wearing blindfolds. When practicing, the first group used a single target that was three feet away, while the second group used two targets that were two feet and four feet away.

The two teams fought to strike a single target at a distance of three feet after six training sessions.

Even though they had never rehearsed with the three-foot target, the second group unexpectedly outperformed the first. Why? They were more adept at “beanbag throwing” because of the variety in their training sessions, which allowed them to adapt it to any goal distance.

The benefit of mixing up your training is that it better prepares you for unforeseen circumstances. Variations demand more thinking and effort from you, which amplifies the benefits of repetition.

How can you use varied repetition in your academic work, then?

Even from hour to hour, try switching up your study methods. This will make it more likely that you can use the ability in a different situation.

For instance, if you are studying geometry, make sure you practice the numerous applications of the Pythagorean theorem in addition to reading about it.

By doing this, you’ll be better prepared to handle problems on a test that is foreign to you and call on you to apply the theorem in various circumstances.

Chapter 8 – Perceptual intuition enables us to distinguish crucial information from background noise.

How does a baseball player choose whether to swing at a fastball so quickly?

How high is the ball? There is so much information to process all at once. How quickly is it moving? Does it curve? Perceptual learning is the key to developing this skill.

Making accurate “quick judgments” is the essence of perceptual learning, which fosters perceptual intuition. It involves learning how to react appropriately to our surroundings by focusing only on the most crucial signals and disregarding the rest.

Although we do not naturally possess this talent, with enough practice and patience we may become specialists. The enormous number of dials and instruments within an airplane’s cockpit can baffle inexperienced pilots. On the other hand, seasoned pilots have honed their visual perception skills to the point where they can tell what the instruments are saying to them with just a glance.

An experienced pilot has had plenty of time to perfect perceptual intuition since he has spent so much time in the cockpit. He is already familiar with the instruments’ settings, their meanings, and most importantly, what to pay attention to.

With enough experience, we may all learn to distinguish between and filter out information that is not required from that which is, therefore developing perceptual intuition.

We can employ perceptual learning modules to do this. Students utilize these images or brief films to practice making snap decisions in response to a specific set of stimuli.

In one research, medical students were instructed to quickly identify the type of lesion or rash portrayed in photos of several skin rashes that, to the untrained eye, appear to be identical.

The students gradually mastered the art of instinctively diagnosing dermatological issues because of these quick selections that let them “feel” the correct response.

You may begin developing your perceptual intuition by using perceptual learning models in your research.

How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens by Benedict Carey Book Review

You must have a solid grasp of how your brain functions, including how it stores and processes information, to maximize your academic performance. With this information, you may create routines that are more successful for what you’re learning and how you need to use the knowledge you’ve acquired.

Buy this book from Amazon

Download Pdf

Download Epub


Savaş Ateş

I'm a software engineer. I like reading books and writing summaries. I like to play soccer too :) Good Reads Profile:

Recent Posts