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Priming the Brain’s Learning Pump


This kitten is intrepid, capricious and vivacious.

Dear Friends,

Each summer I teach a low-cost SAT class at my local community college, and during each session I present various learning and study tips based on brain science. These are pointers that apply to ALL learners, of all ages!

We started with our study of the 100 Most Common SAT Vocabulary Words (which is a wonderful vocab list for ALL students grades 8-12 and beyond, not just those prepping for the SAT).

I wanted to demonstrate this powerful learning technique: 

Always preview and take time to wonder over and form questions about any new material, because your brain will begin to unconsciously prime itself to remember the answers. I gave the class a Working Break (they needed a break from sitting) while reading slowly through the list of words and thinking just a bit about each word.

  • Do I know this word?
  • Have I ever seen this word before?
  • Is this a weird-looking word?
  • What might this word possibly mean?

When we came back into the classroom, I called on individual students to either define a word or to make a guess or any observation at all about any one of the words on the list. Here are some of their questions and comments, each of which provoked interesting discussion:

  • What does condescending mean?
  • OK, so then disdain means the same thing?
  • Hackneyed is a funny-sounding word; what does it mean?
  • Intrepid means bold and brave, like the ship in NYC harbor.
  • Doesn’t anonymous mean random?

Science journalist Annie Murphy Paul explains that “Searching our minds for answers (even if we come up empty) creates ‘fertile ground’ in the brain for encoding the answer when it is eventually provided. . . . Even if you can’t do it, you’ll be more likely to remember the information once it’s in front of your eyes.”

Help your own students to preview new books, math topics, vocab lists, etc by skimming through and asking some questions and generating curiosity. This habit of priming the brain’s learning pump will make all their future studies go more easily!

By the way, I post all of my SAT class notes plus links to helpful free online resources on my website; feel free to access them for some free SAT prep and other summer study ideas.

Warm Regards,


Priming the Brain’s Learning Pump

Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS

Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS is an educator, counselor, writer and speaker. She's been a tutor, test prep coach and home school teacher for over thirty years. Click HERE to visit Leigh's website and to subscribe to her newsletter, "Learning Something New."

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APA Reference
Cousins, L. (2014). Priming the Brain’s Learning Pump. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 6 Jul 2014
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