Basics Sure-Fire Tricks for Learning Something New By Kendra Cherry Kendra Cherry Facebook Twitter Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology. Learn about our editorial process Updated on January 03, 2021 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Rachel Goldman, PhD, FTOS Medically reviewed by Rachel Goldman, PhD, FTOS Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Rachel Goldman, PhD FTOS, is a licensed psychologist, clinical assistant professor, speaker, wellness expert specializing in eating behaviors, stress management, and health behavior change. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Have you ever wanted to learn something new but assumed that it required too much effort, that you were too old, or that it was just too difficult? Many people would like to learn to speak a new language or play a musical instrument but incorrectly assume that the time for learning such things was when they were much younger. Learning new things can be tough sometimes, but it is also good to keep challenging your mind as you grow older. Challenging your brain helps with longevity. Fortunately, there are a lot of tips and tricks out there that can make the process easier and more effective. Whether you are trying to learn quantum physics, a new language, or how to perform CPR, researchers have uncovered a number of different tips, tricks, and strategies that can help you move from beginner to expert much more effectively and easily. Here are a few great ideas to consider. 1 Learn Over Time Hero Images / Getty Images When you are trying to pick up a new skill, such as learning to play the guitar or speak Spanish, you might be tempted to engage in binge-learning sessions. Instead of trying to learn everything all at once, experts suggest that spreading your practice and study sessions out over a period of time, known as distributed practice, is the best approach. One review of common learning strategies found that distributed practice was one of the most effective strategies for learning a new skill. So instead of cramming for a big exam the night before, you are much better off spacing out a few study sessions in the weeks and days leading up to the exam. The great thing about this approach is that it often helps people stick to their goals to learn something new. Instead of sitting down for an hour or two every night to try to memorize Spanish vocabulary and conjugation rules, try spending 15 to 20 minutes every day on a brief study session. Not only are you more likely to actually find time for these quick sessions, you will learn more and stick with it over time. What Is Learning? 2 Practice the Right Way Tetra Images / Getty Images They say that practice makes perfect, but recent findings reveal that it's really the right kind of practice that leads to expertise. While factors like innate talent, IQ, and motivation also play a role in how well people learn and later perform a skill, experts agree that practice does have an essential role in the learning process. So what kind of practice is best? While psychologists are still figuring out exactly which practice approaches lead to the most success in various situations, some experts recommend that exploration during the early learning stages is critical. So if you are learning a new language, starting with the sounds, grammar, alphabet, and other basic elements might help you become more fluent later on. If you are playing a new video game, taking the time to explore the game-play environment and learn the rules can help you excel and score higher. Does Practice Really Make Perfect? 3 Study at the Right Time martin-dm / Getty Images Our bodies have their own internal "clocks" known as circadian rhythms that control our sleep-wake cycle and energy levels throughout the day. While the peak times for physical strength are around 11 a.m. and 7 p.m, the peak periods for mental alertness are around 9 a.m and 9 p.m. So, would it stand to reason that you should study when your mind is at its sharpest? In one experiment, researchers had participants memorize word pairs at either 9 a.m. or 9 p.m. and then tested them at 30 minutes, 12 hours, and 24 hours later. The results revealed that while the time of day the subjects learned the words had no impact on their initial memory, their memory on the 12-hour retest was much better among those who had a full night's sleep than those who had a period of wakefulness. On the 24-hour retest, the researchers found that those who had slept shortly after studying and then had a full day of wakefulness did better than those who had been awake all day after studying and then had a night's sleep before the retest. So what does this suggest? The results indicate that studying shortly before sleep is the ideal time to enhance memory. The researchers suggest that sleep helps stabilize declarative memory, minimizing the negative impact that wakefulness has on memory. How to Learn More Effectively 4 Take a Nap Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Getty Images You don't need a full night's sleep to reap the benefits when it comes to learning. According to some researchers, taking a 45- to 60-minute nap after you learn something can have beneficial effects on memory. One lab study found that sleep actually results in physical changes in the brain. Following a learning task, sleep-deprived mice experienced less dendritic growth while well-rested mice had more.These dendrites are connections between neurons, and they're how the brain stores memory. So the next time you nod off after a mid-afternoon learning session, don't feel bad. Not only is the nap probably good for you, it might just help cement the information you learned in your memory. The Overwhelming Benefits of Power Napping 5 Prep Like a Teacher Simon Potter / Getty Images When you want to learn something new, try organizing and translating the information into your own words like you would if you were planning to teach a lesson. Even if you don’t actually share the information you’ve learned with another person, the expectation to teach can help speed the learning process and help you remember more, according to a study published in the journal Memory and Cognition. Memory Tips That Will Boost Your Brain Power 6 Quiz Yourself Hero Images / Getty Images There has been a lot of debate about standardized testing in recent years within political and educational circles, but researchers have found that testing can be about a lot more than just assessing what you already know. In fact, testing might actually be one of the best ways to help you learn. Studies have shown that people who study and are then tested on the material have better long-term recall of the information than those who study and are never tested. So the next time you are trying to memorize some information or study a challenging subject, spend a little time quizzing yourself, taking online tests on the subject, or completing chapter tests that are included in your textbook. Techniques That Work to Improve Memory 6 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Benjamin AS, Tullis J. What makes distributed practice effective? Cogn Psychol. 2010;61(3):228-47. doi:10.1016/j.cogpsych.2010.05.004 Payne JD, Tucker MA, Ellenbogen JM, et al. Memory for semantically related and unrelated declarative information: The benefit of sleep, the cost of wake. PLoS ONE. 2012;7(3):e33079. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0033079 Studte S, Bridger E, Mecklinger A. Nap sleep preserves associative but not item memory performance. Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2015;120:84-93. doi:10.1016/j.nlm.2015.02.012 Yang G, Lai CS, Cichon J, Ma L, Li W, Gan WB. Sleep promotes branch-specific formation of dendritic spines after learning. Science. 2014;344(6188):1173-1178. doi:10.1126/science.1249098 Nestojko JF, Bui DC, Kornell N, Bjork EL. Expecting to teach enhances learning and organization of knowledge in free recall of text passages. Mem Cognit. 2014;42(7):1038-48. doi:10.3758/s13421-014-0416-z Yang C, Potts R, Shanks DR. Enhancing learning and retrieval of new information: A review of the forward testing effect. NPJ Sci Learn. 2018;3:8. doi:10.1038/s41539-018-0024-y Additional Reading Dunlosky J, Rawson KA, Marsh EJ, Nathan MJ, Willingham DT. Improving students' learning with effective learning techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychol Sci Public Interest. 2013;14(1):4-58. doi:10.1177/1529100612453266 By Kendra Cherry Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist Online Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.