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Summary of Make it Stick The Science of Successful Learning

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Summary of Make it Stick The Science of Successful Learning

Short Version

"Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning" challenges traditional learning techniques with evidence-based strategies for effective learning. The book emphasizes active recall, spaced repetition, interleaving, elaboration, concrete examples, and dual coding as keys to durable learning. It debunks common myths like rereading and massed practice, advocating instead for methods that leverage cognitive science to enhance memory and understanding. This guide is essential for anyone aiming to improve their learning process, offering practical advice for students, educators, and lifelong learners to achieve deeper understanding and long-term retention of knowledge.

Introduction to 'Make It Stick'

The quest for mastery in new skills and knowledge is a journey that many embark on, but few tread efficiently. Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning emerges as a beacon of insight in a sea of conventional wisdom, challenging and reshaping the way we approach learning. Authored by Peter C. Brown, a novelist and storyteller, alongside cognitive scientists Henry L. Roediger III and Mark A. McDaniel, this book bridges the gap between academic research and practical application. It presents a compelling argument against widely accepted learning techniques that are often ineffective, and instead, introduces readers to evidence-based strategies proven to significantly enhance learning effectiveness and retention.

The primary aim of Make It Stick is not just to present an alternative method of learning but to deeply question and overhaul the reader’s entire approach to acquiring new knowledge. Through a blend of storytelling, scientific research, and practical examples, Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel meticulously debunk the myths surrounding learning practices such as rereading and massed practice sessions. They offer instead a suite of learning strategies grounded in the cognitive psychology of how people actually learn best.

Debunking Learning Myths

One of the pivotal aspects of Make It Stick is its rigorous examination and dismantling of widespread learning myths. These myths, often masquerading as intuitive strategies for study and memorization, are not only ineffective but can significantly impede the learning process. The authors highlight several of these misconceptions and juxtapose them with strategies backed by cognitive science.

  • Myth: Rereading is an effective study technique.

    Contrary to popular belief, rereading material does not significantly enhance understanding or retention. This practice can create a false sense of mastery, leading learners to believe they have comprehended and memorized content more thoroughly than they actually have. The authors suggest that active recall and testing oneself on the material are far more effective methods for solidifying knowledge.

  • Myth: Massed practice (cramming) is the best way to prepare for exams.

    Massed practice, or cramming, is often seen as a last-minute key to success. However, studies show that this approach is less effective for long-term retention. Spaced repetition, where study sessions are distributed over time, is a more efficient way to encode information into long-term memory.

  • Myth: Sticking to one study location improves concentration and retention.

    Variety in study environments can actually enhance memory recall. The change in context can stimulate memory, making it easier to recall information later. This challenges the common practice of designating a single study spot.

  • Myth: Learning styles (e.g., visual, auditory, kinesthetic) should dictate how we study.

    The concept of learning styles is popular but largely unsupported by scientific evidence. The authors argue that effective learning strategies are universally applicable across different types of content and subjects, regardless of an individual's preferred learning style.

By confronting these myths, Make It Stick not only clears the path for more effective learning techniques but also encourages readers to adopt a more critical and evidence-based approach to their learning endeavors.

Core Principles of Effective Learning

The foundation of Make It Stick lies in its presentation of core learning principles that are deeply rooted in cognitive science. These strategies challenge traditional approaches and offer a blueprint for more effective, durable learning. Below, we explore each principle and its impact on the learning process.

  • Retrieval Practice

    Instead of passively reviewing notes or textbooks, actively recalling information strengthens memory and enhances the learning process. This technique, also known as the testing effect, involves practicing retrieving information without the aid of study materials, thereby improving long-term retention.

  • Spaced Repetition

    Distributing study sessions over time, rather than condensing them into a single session, is far more effective for embedding knowledge into long-term memory. Spaced repetition leverages the psychological spacing effect to build a more durable recall mechanism.

  • Interleaving Practice

    Mixing different topics or types of problems during study sessions can significantly improve problem-solving skills and learning. Interleaving encourages comparative learning and helps in understanding and remembering concepts more deeply.

  • Elaboration and Explanation

    Explaining the material in your own words and making connections between new information and what you already know deepens understanding. This process of elaboration helps in forming more complex associations and enhances retention.

  • Concrete Examples

    Using specific examples to understand abstract concepts makes the learning material more relatable and easier to grasp. For instance, when learning about the principle of supply and demand in economics, a concrete example such as the increase in prices of masks and hand sanitizers during a pandemic can help illustrate how the principle operates in real-world scenarios. This strategy aids in the application of theoretical knowledge to practical situations, making abstract concepts more tangible and understandable.

  • Dual Coding

    Combining verbal information with visual aids (such as diagrams, graphs, or images) can reinforce learning by tapping into different cognitive pathways. This multimodal approach facilitates better memory recall and understanding.

Implementing these core principles can transform the learning experience from one of memorization and frustration to one of understanding and long-lasting knowledge. Make It Stick not only advocates for these strategies but also provides a compelling case for their effectiveness through research and real-world examples.

Applying the Principles

Understanding the core principles of effective learning is one thing; applying them to enhance your own or others' learning experiences is another. This section offers practical tips and real-world examples to demonstrate how these strategies can be integrated into everyday learning and teaching practices.

  • Retrieval Practice in Action

    Instead of merely reviewing your notes, try closing the book and recalling what you’ve learned. For teachers, incorporate frequent low-stakes quizzes into your curriculum to encourage students to retrieve information from memory.

  • Implementing Spaced Repetition

    Use a digital flashcard app such as that employs spaced repetition algorithms to study a language, historical dates, or scientific terms. This approach can significantly improve retention over time.

  • Interleaving in Study Sessions

    When studying mathematics, instead of practicing one type of problem at a time, mix different problem sets. This approach helps in understanding the underlying principles and improves the ability to apply knowledge in varied situations.

  • Elaboration Through Teaching

    Explain the material you're learning to someone else in your own words, or even pretend you're teaching a class. This method forces you to make the information clear in your own mind and reveals any gaps in your understanding.

  • Using Dual Coding

    When studying complex subjects, supplement textual information with diagrams, charts, or videos. For example, if learning about the human circulatory system, combine reading your textbook with examining detailed diagrams and watching animations of blood flow.

By adopting these evidence-based strategies, learners can transform their study habits and educators can enhance their teaching methods, leading to more effective and enduring learning outcomes. Remember, the key is not just to understand these principles theoretically but to apply them diligently and creatively in real-life learning scenarios.

Overcoming Challenges in Learning

Learning is a journey fraught with obstacles and setbacks. Make It Stick doesn't shy away from this reality but instead offers guidance on how to navigate these challenges effectively. The key lies not only in adopting the right strategies but also in maintaining motivation and resilience in the face of difficulties.

  • Embracing Difficulties as Learning Opportunities

    Difficulties and mistakes are not just inevitable but invaluable parts of the learning process. They provide critical feedback and learning opportunities. Instead of viewing them as failures, reframe these experiences as chances to grow and understand more deeply.

  • Setting Realistic Goals and Expectations

    Setting overly ambitious goals can lead to frustration and burnout. Break your learning objectives into manageable, achievable steps. Celebrate small victories along the way to stay motivated and on track.

  • Maintaining a Growth Mindset

    Adopt a growth mindset by believing that your abilities and intelligence can be developed with effort, learning, and persistence. This perspective encourages resilience and a willingness to confront challenges head-on.

  • Seeking Feedback and Support

    Feedback is crucial for learning and improvement. Seek constructive feedback regularly and use it to adjust your learning strategies. Additionally, don't hesitate to seek support from teachers, mentors, or peers when you encounter obstacles.

  • Managing Stress and Avoiding Burnout

    Learning should be challenging but not overwhelming. Practice stress management techniques such as mindfulness, exercise, or using the Pomodoro Technique (short breaks every 25-30 minutes) to ensure that you remain focused and energized. Recognize when to step back and recharge to avoid burnout.

Overcoming learning challenges requires a combination of strategic learning practices, psychological resilience, and support. By leveraging the principles outlined in Make It Stick and adopting a proactive approach to obstacles, learners can navigate their educational journeys more effectively and achieve lasting mastery.


The journey through Make It Stick offers a profound shift in perspective on how we approach learning. By debunking enduring myths and presenting a suite of strategies grounded in cognitive science, the authors provide a roadmap for more effective and enduring learning. The principles of retrieval practice, spaced repetition, interleaving, elaboration, concrete examples, and dual coding are not merely academic concepts but powerful tools that, when applied, can dramatically enhance our ability to learn and remember.

This book challenges readers to abandon ineffective study habits in favor of approaches that are proven to work. The transition may require effort and adaptation, as effective learning is often more challenging and less intuitive than traditional methods. However, the rewards are substantial: deeper understanding, longer retention, and the ability to apply knowledge more effectively in real-world situations.

Ultimately, Make It Stick transcends the boundaries of academia, offering valuable insights for anyone looking to learn more efficiently, whether they are students, professionals, or lifelong learners. The book’s message is clear: effective learning is achievable for everyone, provided we are willing to rethink our approaches and embrace the science of learning. It encourages a proactive stance towards learning, advocating for a deliberate and reflective practice that fosters growth, resilience, and a genuine love for discovery.

In a world where knowledge is both a currency and a compass, Make It Stick serves as an essential guide for those looking to navigate the complexities of learning with confidence and success. The principles it espouses are more than just study tips; they are a call to action to engage with learning in a more meaningful and productive way.

Enhance your learning and retention! Studies show that we might forget up to 70% of new information within a day. Use our pre-made flashcards and turn today's learning into lasting understanding.

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What is the effectiveness of rereading as a study technique?


Rereading is less effective than previously thought, as it can create a false sense of mastery without significantly enhancing understanding or retention.


What is massed practice and its effectiveness?


Massed practice, or cramming, is less effective for long-term retention. Spaced repetition, distributing study sessions over time, is more efficient for embedding knowledge into long-term memory.


How does changing study locations affect learning?


Variety in study environments can enhance memory recall. The change in context stimulates memory, making it easier to recall information later.


What does research say about learning styles?


The concept of learning styles is popular but largely unsupported by scientific evidence. Effective learning strategies are universally applicable across different content and subjects.


What is retrieval practice and its benefits?


Retrieval practice involves actively recalling information without study materials, strengthening memory and enhancing the learning process.


How does spaced repetition work and its benefits?


Spaced repetition involves distributing study sessions over time to build a more durable recall mechanism, leveraging the psychological spacing effect.


What is interleaving practice and its impact?


Interleaving practice mixes different topics or types of problems during study sessions, improving problem-solving skills and deepening understanding.


How does elaboration enhance learning?


Elaboration involves explaining material in your own words and making connections to existing knowledge, deepening understanding and enhancing retention.


Why are concrete examples important in learning?


Concrete examples help understand abstract concepts by making material more relatable and easier to grasp, aiding in the application of theoretical knowledge.


What is dual coding?


Dual coding combines verbal information with visual aids to reinforce learning, tapping into different cognitive pathways for better recall and understanding.


How can retrieval practice be implemented?


Practice retrieving information without materials and use frequent low-stakes quizzes to encourage active recall.


Tips for implementing spaced repetition


Use digital flashcard apps with spaced repetition algorithms for studying languages, dates, or terms to improve retention.


Interleaving in mathematics study


Mix different types of problems when studying mathematics to improve understanding of underlying principles and application in varied situations.


How does teaching others help in learning?


Explaining what you're learning in your own words to others or pretending to teach a class can clarify your understanding and reveal gaps.


Using dual coding in complex subjects


Supplement textual information with diagrams, charts, or videos, such as studying the human circulatory system with detailed diagrams and animations.


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