Wrong Answers Can Help You Learn

In most classrooms, a teacher calls on a student then celebrates a correct answer and admonishes a wrong one. But research from U.C.L.A. suggests that allowing students to make errors can actually improve learning.

For years educators have assumed that repeatedly reinforcing correct concepts in class gives students exposure to the proper information, while shielding them from wrong ways of thinking. Errors are tolerated, of course, but only as temporary mistakes that should be quickly replaced by the right answer.

But as it turns out, people actually internalize information more effectively when they make an unsuccessful attempt to retrieve the information, compared to simply studying the material. Trying to generate an answer, even when it’s wrong, improves learning.

This is an especially interesting finding in our internet-inundated culture, where easy answers are available at the click of a button. Before finding the correct answer, it may be more effective to take a guess first…then Google it to check your response.

A mini “pre-test” like this might seem like a little bit more work, and might not boost your confidence, but it’s a powerful way to learn.

Getting It Wrong: Surprising Tips on How to Learn [Scientific American]
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