Tag Archives: Present

Read as if You’re Presenting: A Backdoor Argument for Oral Exams

In my experience, the best way to retain the material you’re reading is to be giving a presentation on said material. That might sound a little odd, but consider it for a moment. If you have to present on a topic, when you’re reading about that topic, you (should be) reading just a little bit closer and maybe a little bit harder such that when you’re up in front of a crowd, you’ll be more inclined to remember what you read.

It turns out, this anecdotal experience has been studied:

A recent study in the journal Memory & Cognition showed the effect that reading with intention and purpose can have. Two groups were given the same material to read—one was told they’d have a test at the end, while the others were told they’d have to teach someone the material.

In the end, both groups were given the same test. Surprisingly, the group that was told they’d have to teach the material (rather than be tested on it) performed much better:

When compared to learners expecting a test, learners expecting to teach recalled more material correctly, they organized their recall more effectively and they had better memory for especially important information.

Having a clear question in mind or a topic you’re focusing on can make all the difference in helping you to remember and recall information.

Intuitively, this should make sense. When some folks read “for the test,” they’re not necessarily reading with the intention that they’re going to remember the information after the test. Put differently, they’re almost always not reading the material for an oral exam. This reminds me of something I wrote a few years ago:

Presumably, the students could get through the entire semester and finish with an “A” in the class without having to say anything. I realize that a great deal of communication in today’s world is completed online and through writing, but isn’t our ability to communicating orally important, too? At least, shouldn’t there at least be some time spent on it?

In that post, I was suggesting that there be a rebalance from written exams to oral exams — in part — because in my experience, there’s a deficit in the oratory skills of students in university. Even if we ignore the epidemic of fear of public speaking, most students don’t get nearly as much time practicing their oratory skills as they do their writing skills.

As luck (?) would have it, should there be this shift from written exams to oral exams, not only would the education system be strengthening people’s ability to communicate, but there would also be an effect in having people better remember some of the things that they’re learning.


To be honest, when I sat down to write this post, I had no idea that I was going to be strengthening my argument for having more oral exams in university and that’s — in part — one of the arguments from the article I initially referenced:

Association is a peg upon which you hang a new idea, fact, or figure. When you know where the peg is located, it’s a lot easier to find what you’ve hung upon it. As you read and come across new ideas and thoughts, you’ll want to connect and associate these with familiar memories as a means of creating a bond between old and new. There are many different ways to create associations in your mind, from pairing new thoughts with familiar objects, to creating acronyms.

So, next time you sit down to read your saved article on Pocket, catch up on a book on your Kindle, or read the Sunday Times, consider that the best way to retain some of the things you’re about to read might be if you were to pretend you were going to be giving a presentation on the material.

Saving For Retirement — As Simple As Counting in Days

A few years ago, I wrote a post about the problems with saying “I’ll be ready in 5 minutes.” It turns out, there’s now research that — in a way — supports the point I was trying to make.

In this study, the researchers attempted to draw closer the connection between our present selves and our future selves. In particular, they looked at how manipulating the unit used to convey time (days, months, and years) can have an effect on that connection between our present selves and future selves. In plain language, consider the time between now and when you retire. It may be, what, 30, 20, 15, or 10 years away? For those of you closer to 25 years from retirement, that might sound like a long ways away (actually, it’s really not). Have you started saving for retirement? Oh, right, retirement savings, yeah, I’ll start next year.

That attitude right there, the attitude that our “future selves” are far away (when in actuality, they’re not), that’s what the researchers were targeting. From the researchers [Emphasis Added]:

We found that people say they will start saving four times sooner if told how many days rather than how many years they have until their child goes to college or until they want to retire. […] Considering one’s retirement or one’s child’s college education in days rather than years leads people to experience more connection between their present and future selves, which makes the identities linked to these future selves (e.g., “retiree”) feel more congruent with their current self. This reduces the extent that people discount future over current rewards. Less discounting means that saving for the future may feel less painful.

So, when we think about future events in a unit that is more relevant to us (days vs. years), we’re more likely to feel a connection to those future events and by extension, our future selves.


Let’s circle back to my post from a few years ago about 300 seconds:

As a way around this — sometimes — I like to use the term “300 seconds.” Why 300 seconds? Well, 300 seconds is the same amount of time as 5 minutes. (Weird, eh?) But it sounds different, doesn’t it? Similarly, if I’m going to need more than 5 minutes, say 10 minutes, I might say 600 seconds.

To piggyback this research, I’d be interested to see results of a study that looked at our perception of time in an even smaller unit of measurement. For things like retirement and college savings, years to days makes sense, but what about for something that’s going to be happening in less than 5 years or something that will be happening in a few months?

Let’s say we’re hosting a conference in 3 months and we need to get things in order for it. Three months isn’t that far away, but thinking about it in months might not give us the necessary urgency. What if we thought about it in weeks? Twelve. Days? 90. Hours? 2160. Minutes? 129,600.

Ok, so minutes is probably too finite a measurement for this analogy, but I think you get the point. Changing the unit of measurement certainly has an effect on our perspective of future events.

ResearchBlogging.orgLewis, N., & Oyserman, D. (2015). When Does the Future Begin? Time Metrics Matter, Connecting Present and Future Selves Psychological Science, 26 (6), 816-825 DOI: 10.1177/0956797615572231

All Rivers Lead to the Ocean

All rivers lead to the ocean. All roads lead to Rome. One tree, many branches. There are a number of phrases and idioms with a message that “we’re all connected” in some way. Last summer, I posted a paper (in a series of posts) I wrote that included guidance from many of the world’s religions by way of quotes on a variety of topics. A couple of weeks ago, I came across a post at Lifehacker that I wish I had the time to have written.

The author takes seven lessons from world religions and then finds evidence for those lessons in a given religion’s teachings. I should say, it’s not clear to me whether the author worked forwards (come up with a lesson and then find evidence for that lesson in the text) or backwards (read the religious texts and then conclude there are similarities), but regardless, the quotes from the religious texts do seem to show similarities.

The seven lessons:

  1. The Golden Rule
  2. Work for the happiness of others, especially the poor/unfortunate
  3. Focus on the present
  4. Aim for achievements, not money
  5. Interact with the community
  6. Take responsibility for your actions
  7. Know yourself (make up your own mind)

The author’s parting quote is a succinct piece of advice when it comes to religion:

Stay curious and keep questioning—but also don’t discount the wisdom of the ages.


As we get further and further connected through technology, I wonder if we’re actually become further disconnected from ourselves and each other. There are absolutely advantages to being able to reach someone with the swipe of a thumb or the click of a finger, but as a couple of the above lessons seem to indicate, that can make it harder to focus on the present or to know one’s self. If we’re always reaching out and never taking the time to look within, it can certainly make it harder to have a developed sense of self.

Reading my words or someone else’s words likely won’t convince you to “go within.” It has to be a decision you make on your own. A switch inside of you that decides… it’s time. My wish for you: that time is sooner rather than later.

Do You Know Where Your Filters Are?

It’s been a couple of days since I last published a post. I’ll try to make sure that I have something published everyday for the next couple of days, but it is near the end of the semester and I have more exams (3) than I’m accustomed to.

I’ve had this link on my list of things to write about, so I thought I’d put something together really quickly this afternoon and clear it off the list. I’ve written before about the importance of cleaning off the list to allow for new ideas to come in.

The title of the post at the link I’ve had on my list to talk about is: “6 surprising facts about how we see the world.” I want to be encourage you to go and read the post on the other site because there are lots of good graphics/picture/videos that help to reinforce points. That being said, there are a two things that I’ll share.

Before sharing a couple of things, I do want to mention something I remember learning during my first Master’s (that’s reinforced in this link I’ll be talking about): we don’t see the world in the present. Pardon? That’s right. We don’t see the world as it’s happening — instead — we see it as it happened. That must sound a bit strange, but it makes sense after I add some more context to it. Think about how we see the world — through our eyes. When light enters our eyes, our lens focuses the light on the retina. The retina then carries signals of light to a somewhere in the brain by way of the optic nerve. While this happens fast, it still takes time. As a result, there is a delay (albeit a small one) between when light hits your retina and your brain processing what you see. Therefore, we don’t see the world in the present. Okay, now back to that link:

According to Dr. Mark Changizi, what is also common to trichromat primates is exposed facial skin (ie. faces not covered with fur). When the skin is exposed, these primates can communicate their emotional state based on the level of hemoglobin and oxygen in the blood. A green hue of the skin usually indicates sickness (low hemoglobin, oxygen), redindicates blushing or excitement (high hemoglobin, oxygen), blue – cold, lethargy(high hemoglobin concentration), and yellow – fear or bloodless (low hemoglobin concentration).

In other words, we see color not because color exists in the physical world but because color vision is useful for communication.

It never occurred to me (though, I never sat down to consider it) that seeing color was evolutionary. There’s a great picture of what we as (trichromats) vs. other mammals.

The other thing I wanted to share:

Now let’s go a step further. We’ll show how people’s need to find answers to the most important questions of life has less to do with some spiritual search for meaning and more with the fact that we evolved a mechanism which actively interprets the phenomena we experience. In other words, we form beliefs about ourselves and the world around us because these beliefs are useful for our survival.

So what exactly is this mechanism? Dr. Michael S. Gazzaniga, in his article The Interpreter Within: The Glue of Conscious Experience, explains:

The answer appears to be that we have a specialized left-hemisphere system that my colleagues and I call the “interpreter.” This Interpreter is a device (or system or mechanism) that seeks explanations for why events occur. The advantage of having such a system is obvious. By going beyond simply observing contiguous events to asking why they happened, a brain can cope with such events more effectively should they happen again.

Yet, the answers we seek do not have to be based in reality. They merely have to be consistent with our experiences and perception

Beliefs can be very powerful. They can cause us to war with each other or they can simply cause us to believe something that might not be based in fact. If you’ve never heard of Byron Katie or The Work and you’re interested in learning about some of the ‘filters’ you might use to see the world, I strongly urge you to check it out.