Getting it wrong is the best way to learn - yes, you read that right. It may not be the most comfortable or intuitive advice as you frantically prep for exams, but research now supports the theory that the more mistakes you make, the better you are learning.
Why are we so afraid of mistakes?
Most of us are products of a learning environment that championed the technique of 'error-free learning'. Regular tests are often seen as demonstrations of knowledge rather than a learning process in themselves.
Under this system, most people lean towards trying their best to avoid mistakes at all costs.
When you think of the biggest mistakes in your life, aren't they also the biggest lessons? The triggers that have helped you to get it right in the end? The truth is that 'error-free learning' makes us cautious and afraid of taking risks that may not turn out perfectly on the first attempt. So, it's time to bin your perfect scores and put some blunders back into your learning process.
Mistakes are good: the evidence
So what's the evidence for embracing mistakes?
- The study by Hays, Kornell N and Bjork RA, 'When and Why a Failed Test Potentiates the Effectiveness of Subsequent Study' revealed that memory improves if people are given a test they will inevitably fail. Essentially, trying and failing to get the correct answer is very helpful to learning.
- Findings by Baycrest researchers in their study 'Learning from your mistakes' suggest that near-miss mistakes help people to learn information better than if no mistakes were made at all.
- A study by Potts and Shanks, 'The benefit of generating errors during learning' showed that when people initially make an incorrect guess and then are given the correct answer, they are more likely to remember the correct information than if they didn't guess to start with.
How to include mistakes in your learning
It's all very well appreciating the benefits of mistake-making in learning, but how can you incorporate this into your own study? Here are a few tips:
- Test your failing: We know what you're thinking, 'What does that even mean?' Obviously don't try this out in the real exam, but when going through your study notes a few weeks beforehand, try to test yourself before you think you're ready. Test yourself before you've even read through your notes, and see what you can learn from the mistakes you make in the practice environment. It is a fantastic way to challenge yourself, and remember that if you're not making mistakes it's clearly too easy.
- Use testing: Testing yourself is a great way to solidify your knowledge, so don't be frightened by the possibility of not getting 100 per cent. Use practice exams, look up questions online or simply interrogate yourself on what you've just read.
- If you don't know, guess: If you're not totally sure, go for it regardless. Whether you get it right or wrong you will know for next time. Take a bit more risk and don't be afraid of the outcome.
- Be positive: Revising for exams can be a stressful experience and if you are fretting over your mistakes it's going to make it even worse. Just remember how valuable getting it wrong really is, and be positive!
If you're looking for an extra boost to your study plan why not get in touch with the subject specialists at Studiosity? Our online service gives you access to real-time help with study problems, so that you can learn from your mistakes and get on track for success!