Notes on

Make It Stick

by Peter C. Brown

This is the most important point: deep and durable learning takes effort.

Making practice harder is more effective. It should never be impossible; the desired difficulty is what can be overcome through increased effort.

To make your practice harder (and therefore more effective), you can use

  • Spaced Practice while avoiding Massed Practice. You should space your practice by putting time between sessions. At least one day.
  • Interleaved Practice, which means to mix up your practice sessions; don't just tackle one thing at a time. Move on before you feel ready.
  • Varied Practice, which means to mix up your practice. Don't just do the same thing every time.

All three of which are conduits for better learning and more effective practice.

Interleaved and varied practice makes you better at distinguishing which kind of problem you are dealing with.

Retrieval Practice is a great way to learn, as it strengthens neural pathways between memories, making recall easier.

It is hard to overstate the importance of testing yourself. It should absolutely be your primary study strategy.

If you want to be a successful student, remember: The most successful students are those who take charge of their own learning and follow a simple but disciplined study strategy.

A limiting factor of our learning is that many us is that we are poor judges of when we are learning well and when we are not - so we try to use strategies that feel more productive but actually are not. This is to say that Employing learning strategies that makes the work easier hurts your learning, which is why you should avoid re-reading because re-reading after a short period of time for learning is a waste of time. Learning must be effortful.

You should always try to connect ideas to learn better, because knowledge can be seen as a graph. Why? Because we learn by building on what we already know. The better connected your knowledge is, the stronger it is.

Retrieval practice

Retrieval practice is where you attempt to recall something from your memory.

A classical example of retrieval practice is the use of flashcards — usually with a technique known as Spaced Repetition.

Recall makes it easier to recall later. This is more effective than rereading. The brain is not a muscle, but the analogy transfers. By 'training your brain' through retrieval practice, you make the neural pathways between nodes stronger.

Interrupting the forgetting curve with testing/recall strengthens memory. A common form of retrieval practice is testing.

A focus on recitation gets the best results.

Fast lookup of memories is desirable. You can make it fast through repeated use of the information and by establishing powerful retrieval cues that can reactivate them.

Therefore, retrieval practice is key.

6 Tips for Better learning

  • Try to solve problems before being taught the solution
  • Make what you learn matter. Make it concrete. Make it personal.
  • Better to solve a problem than to memorize the solution
  • Writing about what you have learned helps you learn
  • Build on your strengths as well as your weaknesses
  • Failing is a part of learning - you can improve

Study Techniques


This is a very powerful technique.

Try to elaborate on something; explain it in your own words.

You may recognize The Feynman Technique, which is a variant of this technique.


Your primary study strategy should be to test yourself.

Test yourself to reveal your weaknesses, such that you can work on them. You should build on your strengths as well as your weaknesses.

Do you, in fact, know what you think you know?

Elaboration can also help with this; in fact, it is what The Feynman Technique is based upon — finding gaps in one's own knowledge through elaboration of concepts and ideas.

How to test yourself

One way is through flashcards.

A very common method of testing that employs several powerful learning concepts is Spaced Repetition. This method uses flashcards.

A good framework for testing is Dynamic Testing, which is a three-step process:

  1. Test yourself to see where you may improve, and aim to do so.
  2. Actually attempt to improve.
  3. Test yourself again to see what you have improved, and what you should still work on.

This is more effective than just doing step one, and does not assume a static level of abilities — i.e., you realize that it is possible to improve your skill and knowledge.


Reflection is great for learning because it facilitates retrieving recollection, connecting memories, and going through what you might do differently.

Ask yourself

  • What went well?
  • What could you do to get better results?
  • What knowledge does it remind you of?


There are many ways to employ generation.

One way is to try to solve problems before being taught the solution.

When reading, you can use the generation method by trying to guess what the author will say / the key ideas in a chapter. You could also write questions for yourself while reading and then try to answer them after reading.

Likewise, you could also attempt to try to explain the key ideas of a lecture before you attend it. Then you can reflect after and see if you got it right or not.

Connecting ideas

A very effective Learning method is relating new ideas to what you already know.

Like connecting nodes in a sort of Knowledge Graph.

If you want to learn something, you must have something to relate it to.

If you do so, you can learn as much as you'd like. The more you know, the more you can know.

It is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree — make sure you understand the fundamental principles, i.e. the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang onto.

— Elon Musk

With no root or branches, the leaves can't hang. While I think that the analogy is good, I believe that there can be multiple branches from the root.

The better connected your knowledge is the more solid it is. Put it in the larger context.

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