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Test-taking Tip: Go Ahead and Mix It Up!

Writing Most of us learned in elementary school that making lists and then memorizing them is a top study technique. However, here's a new twist on list-making: the serial positioning effect. This refers to the way the brain retains information depending on the order in which it's presented.

There are two parts of the serial positioning effect:

  • First, according to the primacy effect, you'll recall the first few items in a memorized list more accurately than the others. This is simply because you give the first few items in any list more attention and rehearse them more often.
  • Next is the recency effect. The recency effect predicts that you'll remember the last few items in a list with greater accuracy than those in the middle or even at the beginning of the list. The reason for this is that the last few items in a list linger in your short term memory until they're eventually replaced with other distracting information.

How is this information useful to someone who's studying for the real estate exam? Let's look at an example. Imagine you're memorizing the ways an agency relationship can be terminated. Your list may look something like this:

  • Mutual agreement
  • Revocation
  • Renunciation
  • Expiration of agency term
  • Fulfillment of purpose
  • Death or incapacity of a party
  • Extinction of the subject matter

According to serial positioning, you should remember these items the best: mutual agreement, revocation, death or incapacity, and extinction of subject matter. But what about the other things on the list? Since you don't have to learn these items in any particular order, it may be helpful to mix the order up a little. Make a couple of different lists, one using the order established in your textbook, and another one where the middle items take their place at the top—or bottom—of the list. Rehearsing the items in different orders gives a prominent spot to each item at least once, and this increases your odds of remembering them all on exam day.

So go ahead: mix it up a little, and see how your recall improves!

Remember, Rockwell Institute is here to answer your questions about taking the real estate exam!