Quiz: How Good Are You at Learning?

A quiz from the author of “How We Learn.”

The following quiz comes from How We Learn‘s author Benedict Carey. 

1) You have a book on algorithmic trading to read over the weekend before you write a review due on Tuesday, but you can’t sit still. You try to focus, but the material will not yield. What to do?

A. Tough it out, nobody said this was easy.
B. Get out of the house, and take the book with you: to the coffee shop, the diner, the park, the library, the bar. Put on some music. Have a drink. Have at it.
C. Eliminate all distractions from your work space. Concentrate.
D. Quit for now, and come back to it later.

ANSWER: B. There’s a large body of research showing that changing “context” while you’re learning—and this includes location, time of day, mood, environment, even background music—deepens learning. It also allows you to put your restlessness to good use.

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To Master Test Material, Give Your Brain a Break

2) You have a Spanish test one week from today and you’ll need four hours to study. How do you best spend that time?
A. Put in one concentrated, four-hour study session three days before the test.
B. Stay up late, cramming, the night before the exam so the material is fresh.
C. Do one hour a night for four consecutive nights in the coming week.
D. Do two hours tonight and two tomorrow night.

ANSWER: D. Distributing or “spacing” study time can double the amount of material we retain. For a test in a week, the ideal schedule is: tonight and tomorrow, or tonight and the day after tomorrow. The optimal interval depends on when the test is.

3) Your (mostly) diligent 16-year-old is stuck on a problem set. She asks you if she can take a break and jump on her computer. You respond by:
A. Making her push on, until a breakthrough occurs.
B. Suggesting she call a friend for help.
C. Letting her do what she wants.
D. Rolling your eyes, complaining about her generation’s addiction to technology and wondering aloud what will become of the world when the devices take over.

ANSWER: C. A little dose of distraction—15 to 20 minutes, scrolling through Facebook or going for a run—actually helps us re-engage problems in a new way. It also increases the likelihood, by about 20%, that your daughter will find a solution to the problem she’s stuck on.

4) You have an important interview tomorrow and you need to memorize some material by heart. How much time should you spend studying and how much time practicing from memory?
A. A third of the time reading, two thirds practicing from memory.
B. 90% studying the text—and 10% practicing from memory at the end.
C. 50% reading, 50% practicing.
D. Just read it a few times and sleep on it.

ANSWER: A. Research shows that “self-testing”—i.e., performing as practice—is much more effective that re-reading the text, by a ratio of about 2:1.

How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens


5) Testing overworked and sleep-deprived people on a book by Benedict Carey that they haven’t even had the chance to read yet is:
A. A waste of time.
B. A cruel, dirty trick.
C. A pandering gimmick.
D. By far the best way to become familiar with and introduced to the material.

ANSWER: D. New research suggests that “pretesting”—testing yourself on material before you’ve even studied it—tunes the brain for subsequent learning. The process of guessing at answers forces you to mentally bookmark material and concepts in a way that increases the likelihood you’ll recognize—and remember—them later.

How well did you do? Let us know in the comments?

Quiz courtesy of Random House.

Meet the Writer

About Benedict Carey

Benedict Carey is author of How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where and Why It Happens (Random House, 2014) and a science reporter at The New York Times in New York, New York.

  • Mark Spencer

    In question 4, it reads “memorize…by heart”. That’s redundant. Yay for me!! : J)

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