Remember That – Will It Be On The Test?

Remember that – will it be on the test? A common question. The new academic year is gearing up with new courses and fresh students about to take their seats in lecture theaters to listen to the golden words of wisdom from their professors.

Some of those words of wisdom will be remembered, but many more will be forgotten. Sometimes it’s the subject matter, sometimes it’s the phraseology, and sometimes it’s just the delivery that determines whether or not you’ll remember that gem.

Speaking for an hour or so on a dry topic is an art that some can pull off well, but often the continuous cadence of one voice leads to our attention wandering. Then we don’t remember that critical point. Making an effort at clear speech so that someone whose first language is different from yours, or which would help someone with a hearing deficit, makes a huge difference. Ear-buds for listening to music or taking phone messages during the lecture doesn’t count in terms of sympathy, of course.

A recent study by Van Engen et al from U Texas at Austin set about quantifying the problem of memory recognition of speech in trying circumstances. The first study used 18 young students to listen to sentences spoken and mixed with background chatter-type noise. Some sentences were sensible. Some weren’t, but all were short and the participants had to transcribe them as best they could.

The second study had a few more participants and the age range was wider going up to students in their 30’s. This time, both a normal conversational voice and a careful clear speaking voice were used.

The results were clear, the listeners were able to remember the short meaningful sentences best, but with a distinct advantage when care was taken to speak clearly and not just chat.

These experiments were all done individually in the lab and not in a lecture room. Large classes are probably a good thing as the speaker is more likely to speak slowly and clearly. Small groups are usually much more “chatty.” Does this mean that we should opt for the most popular classes one wonders idly when we should be listening.


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