Use your head

Use your head

Do you agree?

Tell me and Ill forget. Show me and I may not remember. Involve me and Ill understand.

Native American saying

Active vocabulary

1 to reveal

; ,

; ,

2 consistently



3 to underestimate

4 to apply (to)



5 to cheat



6 to slip away

7 to let down

8 confidence



9 to give a tip


10 sensible



11 to swear (swore, sworn)



12 to consolidate

13 to coincide


14 boost


15 ageing

16 misconception


17 inevitable

18 consequence



19 adage

20 to threaten

21 to distract



22 to the detriment



23 drowsy=sleepy

Exercise 1. Work with one or two other students and discuss the following questions.

1. Think of something you have learnt to do successfully (e.g. a sport, driving a car, playing the piano, using a computer). Why do you think you were successful? How did you succeed?

2. Think of something you had less success in learning (maybe at school). Why do you think you were less successful? What went wrong?

Exercise 2. Discuss whether you think the following statements are true or false.

1. Most people have better memories than they think.

2. Drinking black coffee can help people to remember information.

3. We learn better at certain times of the day than at others.

4. When you're studying, it's best not to take many breaks.

5. Our memories are bound to get worse as we get older.

6. We learn best when we are relaxed.

7. It's possible to learn while you sleep.

8. When studying a book, it's best to remember information in the author's own words.

Exercise 3. You will find information on all these points in the following text.

Exercise 4. The text deals with several different aspects of memory and learning. The main topics are listed below in the order they appear in the text.

Exercise 5. Skim through the text fairly quickly and write the numbers of the paragraphs which deal with each topic.

Topic Paragraph(s)

Memory .......................

Learning rhythms .......................

Effects of ageing on intelligence .......................

Learning: psychological factors .......................

Learning strategies .......................

Exercise 6. In which paragraphs does the writer give the following advice? Use your answers to Exercise 3 to guide you to the relevant part of the text.


A Make your own notes. ..............

B Find out what your best

time for learning is. ..............

If you want to remember

something, try to reproduce the

conditions you were in when you

were learning it. ..........

D Keep mentally active. ...........


Do You Make The Most Of It?

Other people can provide you with information, but only you can learn it.

Lifeplan psychology adviser John Nicholson explains how to reveal the hidden potential of your mind, and how to improve your mental efficiency

PSYCHOLOGICAL research shows we consistently underestimate our mental powers. If you think this does not apply to you, then here is a simple test to show you are wrong.

Write down the names of all the American states you can remember. Put the list away and then set yourself the same task a week later. Provided you have not cheated by consulting an atlas, you will notice something rather surprising. The two lists will contain roughly the same number of states, but they will not be identical. Some names will have slipped away, but others will have replaced them. This suggests that somewhere in your mind you may well have a record of virtually every state. So it is not really your memory letting you down; just your ability to retrieve information from it.

We would remember a lot more if we had more confidence in our memories and knew how to use them properly. One useful tip is that things are more likely to be remembered if you are in exactly the same state and place as you were when you learned them.

So if you are a student who always revises on black coffee, perhaps it would be sensible to prime yourself with a cup before going into the exam. If possible, you should also try to learn information in the room where it is going to be tested.

When you learn is also important. Lots of people swear they can absorb new information more efficiently at some times of day than at others. Research shows this is not just imagination. There is a biological rhythm for learning, though it affects different people in different ways. For most of us, the best plan is to take in new information in the morning and then try to consolidate it into memory during the afternoon.

But this does not apply to everyone, so it is essential to establish your own rhythm.

You can do this by learning a set number of lines of poetry at different times of the day and seeing when most lines stick. When you have done this, try to organise your life so that the time set aside for learning coincides with the time when your memory is at its best.

Avoid learning marathons - they do not make the best use of your mind. Take plenty of breaks, because they offer a double bonus: the time off gives your mind a chance to do some preliminary consolidation and it also gives a memory boost to the learning which occurs on either side of it.

Popular fears about the effects of ageing on intelligence are based on a misconception. Research shows that although we do slow down mentally as we approach the end of life, becoming stupid or losing your grip in the world is not an inevitable consequence of the ageing process. On some measures - vocabulary, for example - we actually improve in the second half of life. In old age, intellectual functioning is closely related to physical health. But there also seems to be a lot of truth in the old adage: If you do not want to lose it, use it.

Learning goes well when people feel challenged and badly when they feel threatened. Whenever a learning task becomes threatening, both adults and children feel anxious. Anxiety interferes with the process of learning because it is distracting! In order to learn effectively you have to be attending closely to the task. An anxious person is likely to be worrying about what will happen if he fails, to the detriment of his attempts to succeed. If his mind is full of thoughts such as "I'm sure I'm going to fail this test", or "What are my parents going to say?", he will not do as well as he should.

Learning is an active process. Despite claims to the contrary, you cannot learn when you are asleep. "Sleep learning" (accomplished by having a tape recorder under the pillow, playing soothing but improving messages while you are recharging your tissues) is unfortunately a myth. Any learning that seems to have occurred in this situation will actually have been done after you woke up but were still drowsy.

Other people can provide you with information, but only you can learn it. It also has to be "chewed over" before it can be integrated into your body of knowledge. That is why just reading a book is no way to acquire information unless you happen to possess a photographic memory. Parroting the author's words is not much better. You have to make your own notes because this obliges you to apply an extra stage of processing to the information before committing it to memory. Effective revision always involves reworking material, making notes on notes, and perhaps re-ordering information in the light of newly-observed connections.

As a general rule, the greater your brains investment in a body of information, the better its chances of reproducing it accurately and effectively when you need it.

Exercise 1. Work in pairs. Read through the questions below and see if you can answer them without looking back at the text. If you need to check, scan through the text till you find the information you need, then read more carefully.

1. If you try the memory test suggested, how much time should pass between the first and second test?

2. What two conditions should be the same if we want to help our memories to recall something that has been learnt?

3. How can learning poetry help us understand how we learn best?

4. What are the advantages of taking breaks during study?

5. What aspect of intelligence gets better as we get older?

6. Why can't we learn effectively if we are anxious?

7. Why doesn't 'sleep learning' work? If you try it, when will learning actually take place?

8. You can only learn by just reading if you have a special quality. What is it?

Exercise 2. Reasons for learning English

Why are you studying English at advanced level? Tick the reasons that apply to you, or add your own.

1. to get a better job

2. out of interest

3. to live in an English-speaking country

Exercise 3. Compare your reasons with a partners.

Factors in learning

How important do you expect the following factors to be in your English course? Rank them in order of importance (1 = most important).

your teacher ........................

your course book ........................

yourself .........................

Exercise 4. Discuss your answers and your reasons with your partner.

Exercise 5. How can your teacher help you most?

Here are some possible ways your teacher can help you to learn (and you can add more if you like). Tick the six which you consider most important.

1. by revising all major areas of grammar thoroughly

2. by concentrating on areas of advanced grammar

3. by working on your use of functional language (e.g. complaining/apologizing)

4. by explaining all new vocabulary clearly

5. by giving regular tests

6. by correcting every mistake you make

7. by giving practice in pronunciation

8. by setting regular homework

9. by working through past examination papers

10. by giving plenty of practice in speaking

11. by giving practice in different types of writing tasks

12. by getting students to work in pairs or groups

13. by helping you to develop good learning methods

Compare your choices with another student.

Exercise 5. How can you help yourself?

a) Here are 17 language learning habits. Tick the things which you already do.

1. translate from my own language before 1 speak or write

2. keep a vocabulary notebook and revise new vocabulary regularly

3. record new vocabulary in a short phrase or sentence

4. write new vocabulary with just a translation in my language

5. use only a bilingual dictionary

6. use only a monolingual dictionary

7. use a grammar reference book

8. speak only English in class

9. read English newspapers or magazines outside class

10. listen to spoken English outside class

11. translate every unknown word as I read

12. guess unknown words as I read

13. only speak in class when I'm sure 1 won't make a mistake

14. ask questions in class

15. revise each lesson before the next

16. set myself learning targets (e.g. five new phrasal verbs each week)

17. find out which areas of language I am weak in and give myself extra practice in them

b) Some of the above habits may, in fact, be unhelpful in the long run. Which are they? (You will probably be able to find about five.) Compare your answers with your partner's and discuss why certain habits might be helpful or unhelpful.

) Underline or highlight the good language learning habits which you will definitely try to adopt. Refer back to this page from time to time to see which good learning habits you have developed.