The Six Hour D

Students who simply read well then check up on their comprehension with study questions often report that this course is "easy." They read the chapter, they take the quizzes, and they get top grades. However, this astonishes another group of students who struggle to memorize 110 answers per chapter (the typical number of study questions). A key to the problem is memorizing. If a person even uses that word, it probably indicates the wrong approach.

In trying to memorize lots of material, a student can spend many hours studying and still do poorly on a test. Such students become frustrated…especially when they see other students who appear to get a good grade without much effort.

More than once I have heard comments like, “I studied for six hours and I got a D. My roommate just reads the chapter once and gets an A.” In the United States, a D is almost a failing grade, while an A is the top grade, so this is distressing.

The student who “reads it once and gets an A” obviously understands what he or she reads. Such a student typically finds the material interesting and “drinks it in” without much apparent effort. The other type of student—the frustrated one—spends hours trying to pound information into memory by brute force and repetition…but little of it really sinks in. This is revealed with dreadful clarity when such students are asked to discuss answers to a few study questions with the book closed. Almost invariably such students cannot articulate the answers to the study questions, even when the questions come from the a chapter the student claims to have spent 6 hours studying.

So: what is happening during those six hours of studying? Why is the long and painful process leaving so little residue in memory? Over the years, grappling with this problem that occurred with about 30% of my students every term, I think I discovered two important answers to that question...maybe three answers if you include dyslexia:

What seems to cause the 6 Hour D?

1. The 6 hour D student typically adopts a verbal approach, running sentences through the mind, trying to memorize them. Memorizing sentences is neither automatic nor easy…and it is not very effective, either, in preparing for a well-constructed test.

2. The 6 hour D student often is not receiving accurate feedback, while studying, about whether he or she is clearly understanding the concepts.

The first point is important because a student who is memorizing sentences is not engaging in the most effective type of studying, using vivid imagination and relating ideas to other ideas, understanding the “how” and “why” of what one is studying. Vivid experiences lead to automatic (that is, effortless) learning of vast amounts of information. See the following section on the movie theater experience.

The second point is also important. If I ask a 6-hour D student to discuss the answer to a study question, I usually hear something like:

“I read that…I understood that stuff.”

But what I do not hear, as a rule, is a coherent answer. To repeat: Students who struggle typically cannot articulate the answers to the study questions. They need clarity.

What is a third possible reason for the 6 Hour D?

I should add a third reason for the 6 Hour D: some students are dyslexic and do not even know it! We will discuss the reading disorder called dyslexia in this textbook. The most common type of dyslexia is caused by a problem early in the reading process at the level of sounding out words. If you have to struggle to pronounce large words when you read, this makes it almost impossible to comprehend difficult text material, and in some cases this problem indicates dyslexia.


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