Quick-Sand Memory: Lecture to the Wall and Beyond


Many young people are challenged to study harder to succeed, but very few of them are given any helpful guidelines for studying. Below are two helpful study techniques and one piece of research that support them.

Lecture to the Wall

“The Overnight Student” by Michael Jones which can be found here. The book is wonderful. Read it, it only takes about an hour. Jones recommends doing things this way:[1]

  1. Take a bite – Read a manageable portion of your source material.
  2. Use Your Tongue – Explain what you’ve just read out loud to an imaginary audience without looking at the book or at any notes. Take note of everything that you cannot explain. You do not understand those things.
  3. Reread – Read your source material again asking yourself consciously, “what does this mean, how can I explain this to an audience, to what does it relate?”
  4. Repeat steps two and three until you have mastered the material.

Lecturing to the wall makes you embarrassingly aware of your gaps in knowledge, but with a plus! You’re embarrassed at home with nobody around to hear it but you (or a roommate). This is far better than being embarrassed by not knowing the material on a test, at a job interview, when giving a speech, while defusing a bomb, during a hostage situation, while fighting Godzilla, or during a group project.

Update: In a 2014 study, John F. Nestojko found that “participants who expected to teach learned more from a passage than did participants who expected to take a test.”[2] In the experiments, subjects did not actually teach, but were told to study material as preparation for teaching. So, the expectation of teaching primes learners to learn more, probably because they expect to have to explain things. This goes nicely with the fact that we learn while we teach. So lecture to the wall is not only anecdotally effective, but it has more scientific support than I had initially supposed.[3]


Another technique, which is similar to Lecture to the Wall, but less helpful is PQ4R.  It’s from Richard Restak’s Think Smart:[4]

  1. Preview – Skim through a chapter of material, noting the headings, vocabulary words, and concepts.
  2. Formulate Questions – Ask questions about the material you have read.
  3. Read – Read the passage looking for answers to the questions you’ve asked.
  4. Reflect – Think about what you’ve read and how to apply it as well as its relationship to the subject at hand and its relationship to other subjects.
  5. Recite – Repeat the material from memory after you’ve learned it. Do this with the text book closed, and only open it to check your accuracy. Put it in the exact language of the text as well as in your own words.
  6. Review – Try to recall and summarize the same points.

Restak’s system is helpful, but it is slightly disorganized. For instance, how can you know what questions to ask about the material until you’ve read it more carefully? I think that Preview, Read, and Formulate Questions should be somehow in the same step. It’s also too many steps to remember. You’d have to study the method to utilize it.


[1] Michael L Jones, The Overnight Student (Bellingham, Wash.: Louis Pub., 1990), 44-60.

[2] John F. Nestojko et al., “Expecting to Teach Enhances Learning and Organization of Knowledge in Free Recall of Text Passages,” Memory & Cognition 42, no. 7 (October 2014): 1045

[3] K. J. Topping, “The Effectiveness of Peer Tutoring in Further and Higher Education: A Typology and Review of the Literature,” Higher Education 32, no. 3 (October 1, 1996): 321–45

[4] Richard Restak’s Think Smart: A Neuroscientist’s Prescription for Improving Your Brain’s Performance, (Riverhead Books, 2009), 109.

Book Review: Stuart Ritchie’s Intelligence: All that matters

Stuart Ritchie, Intelligence: All That Matters. (Hodder & Stoughton, Kindle Edition 2016).

As an educator and leader, I try to stay up to date on research into personality and human potential. But sometimes I cannot keep up with recent findings. Stuart Ritchie’s new book helped fill the gaps.

Dr. Ritchie is a post-doc researcher at the University of Edinburgh where he is researching the development/decline of intelligence across the life span.

The point of the book is essentially to clarify the facts of the case with reference to intelligence:

“The research shows that intelligence test scores are meaningful and useful; that they relate to education, occupation and even health; that they are genetically influenced; and that they are linked to aspects of the brain. (44-45)”

Through the book Ritchie deftly explains the research with reference to each of these issues. For me to go through how he shows this would make the book superfluous. But some of the most interesting points are:

  1. The differences between male and female intelligence are not in terms of the average, but in terms of the outliers. The mean IQ of men and women is roughly 100. But men skew more toward very low IQs and very high IQs. More men are significantly below average and more men are significantly above average (1226).
  2. While eugenicists were interested in early IQ research, the earliest intelligence scientists were interested in helping the less intelligent to succeed. Not only so, but just like the Nazi discovery of a connection between smoking and cancer, the findings of the early eugenicist IQ researchers have been supported by later research (1192).
  3. Multiple intelligences theory isn’t backed by current scientific research (355).
  4. “Nevertheless, we’re lucky that the tools for raising intelligence – which might partly have caused the Flynn Effect – seem to be staring us in the face, in the form of education.” (1168-70)

The take away of the book is basically this: Intelligence, which can be measured by IQ, matters. The books that claim that hard work is more important than IQ are likely mistaken. Also, education appears to actually increase people’s IQ. This part is really important and while Ritchie never mentions him, it coinheres nicely with Arthur Whimbey’s research on training people in sequential problem solving and slowly improving their processing speed.

If you’re an educator, psychologist, parent, or political science major, I recommend that you read this book.