New research published this month by the Sleep Council has found that students need more than almost anything else to succeed is sleep.
Academics from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway University used a fictional language to test students’ ability to recall information, and interpret that same information in new contexts. While learners quickly understood a new language rule when taught, they were much better at applying the rules to new words after a period of rest.
The researchers described this as a “period of consolidation” which allows the brain to understand complex language rules. As Linguistics and Modern Languages students will know, grammatical rules are often defined by their exceptions. Without this refractory period, the brain will learn the exceptions to rule but fail to understand the initial rule. Giving the brain time between the rule and mitigating factors allows this learning to become imprinted in the brain.
Applying this to revision, the researchers argue that effective strategies are structured and incremental, and learning should therefore begin with the basic concepts and not the top-level statistics, which should be learned as a final level of understanding after many, brief periods of study.