This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 06 table of contents.

Judgments of Learning

Students studying for an exam do not have the luxury of waiting weeks or months between repetitions. Fortunately, they may not have to. Nelson and Dunlosky (1991) studied judgments of learning (JOLs ), which are defined as people's estimates of how well they learned something. Nelson and Dunlosky found that judgments of learning (JOLs) were "extremely accurate" when the JOL was "delayed...rather than being made immediately after study." Even after a short delay people were good judges of how well they had learned something. But they were not so accurate when asked immediately after reading something.

What did Nelson and Dunlosky discover about JOLs? What are the implications for students?

The JOL (judgment of learning) concept definitely is relevant to students studying for college-level coursework. You must be able to judge your own learning to decide when you have studied something enough and can move on. However, the Nelson and Dunlosky study shows this cannot be determined immediately after studying the material. If you want to judge your own learning, you must wait for a minute or two after you have studied something. Turn your attention to something different. After emptying your primary memory, go back to your study material and ask yourself if you remember what you were just studying. As long as you wait for short-term memory to clear out, you will make accurate judgments about whether you remember what you studied. Then you can take appropriate action, re-studying the material if necessary.

How does the JOL study relate to advice in Chapter Zero?

The JOL research explains why I called the study procedure of looking back and forth between study questions and answers "Dead Wrong" in Chapter Zero. That procedure does not allow accurate Judgments of Learning. A person can get the impression he or she has learned something because the material lingers in working memory. That feeling can be misleading. Only by clearing out working memory and then interrogating long-term memory can you determine if you have learned something. After you read, go take a break (like the student in Chapter Zero who always listened to a 30 second Counting Crows song before reviewing his study questions.) Then-and only then-come back and see if you can answer the study questions.


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