Make It Stick: Summary & Review

make it stick book cover

Make It Stick (2014) is a book on how to read, learn, and retain information in the most effective way.

Bullet Summary

  • It’s more about how you learn and train than how much you do it
  • Spacing out training and learning sessions is better than cramming out in a short time span
  • Your own mindsets and approach to learning will make all the difference on whether you will learn or not

Make It Stick Summary

About the Authors: Peter Brown is a writer and former management consultant; Henry Roediger is a professor of Psychology at Washington University; Mark McDaniel is a Professor of Psychology and Director of the Center for Integrative Research on Cognition, Learning, and Education (CIRCLE) at Washington University.

Three Myths of Learning

  1. Repetition helps memorize: not necessarily: mindless repetition does little. The quality of the repetition might be more important than the quantity
  2. Fluency means understanding: understanding something does not correlate with how fluent you are at repeating it
  3. Creativity trumps knowledge are not separate: not really, don’t listen to Einstein because knowledge enables creativity
  4. Learning styles help you learn: no, there is no evidence that learning consistently with your learning styles will improve retention and understanding 

Active Learning: Work Hard And Smart

Active learning is about learning hard and smart. 
Both are required, together.

If you are thinking that learning is not easy, it’s not. Learning, as with any worthwhile pursuit, requires effort.
Also, read:

How Effective Learning Looks Like

This is a quick overview of the main principles of “Make It Stick“:

  1. Retrieve & Do Lots of Tests: when you force yourself to retrieve information, you are learning effectively. Tests help you because they force you to retrieve information. And don’t make the mistake of thinking “yeah, I know this” and skipping the answer: force yourself to answer
  2. Vary Your Practice: If you always train the same in the same way, you are limiting your capacity of adapting the learning to different aspects of your life. Change your practice conditions and change the type of tests 
  3. Space Practice Over Time: Practicing over time, especially if there is time to sleep between sessions, is far superior to cramming lots of practice in a short time. So space over time, but not so far away that you have to re-learn the material
  4. Work At Your Comfort Zone – Mistakes are what allow you to learn, so you must work right at the edge of your comfort zone (also read “The Talent Code“)
  5. Connect The New Information: The process of elaboration is to “make the new material your own” by connecting it to what you already know. This way you build a network of information that helps you retain and increase the value of that information
  6. Make The Information Yours: By giving new meaning and/or connecting the information to your values and beliefs, you incorporate the new information in a way that it’s easier for you to retain and access
  7. Practice More What You’re Bad At: practice more what you have learned less and what you are not as good at (example of reading new words more often), but don’t stop practicing what you know well forever and you might lose it

How to Adopt a Learner Mindset

To learn the new material and to remember it more effectively Peter Brown stresses the importance of a learner mindset.

Among the key concepts of a learner mindset are:

  • Be Nice On Yourself: Some people get discouraged when they start out because they’re too clumsy. But everyone’s clumsy when starting out.
  • Be optimistic: Obstacles will always be there. Train yourself not to see obstacles as the ends of the road but as opportunities to improve and get better (also read: The Obstacle Is The Way).
  • Look At Life As Training: Look both at tests, learning, and life in general as training and an opportunity to get better instead of a “make it or break it” opportunity, which only unnecessarily raises your nervousness
  • Stay At it: Learning can take time. Stick with it (also read: Grit)

The author also recommends a growth mindset.
For mastering a growth mindset:

make it stick book cover

Real-Life Applications

  • Do The Practice Questions

You know those practice questions you always skip at the end of each chapter?
Well, if you care about retaining and understanding the information, you must always do those from now on.

Even better, come up with your own questions. This is what I always do and then search for answers.

  • Don’t Read The Answers and Nod

You know when people skip to the answers and nod as if to say “right, of course… Know I know it”.
That’s very poor learning. You have to think about the answer yourself!

  • Strive to Surpass Your Current Level of Ability

When you learn to strive to surpass your current level of ability and knowledge, that’s when you learn the most effectively.


  • Could Have Been More Concentrated

The information here is super powerful. 
But I felt it could have been summarized in a blog post. Or at least, it could have been briefer.

  • Some Studies Provided Without Corresponding Criticism

The author mentions The Marshmallow Test. Yet, there has been quite some criticism of that test which would have been good, in my opinion, to also mention.
Same for neuroplasticity and “The Brain That Changes Itself“.


  • Science-Backed 

Powerful tools are not simply the author’s opinion as in “How to Read A Book” but are often backed by science and research.

  • Learning How to Learn Is A Metaskill

Make It Stick deals with a topic that everyone should be well versed in. But few are.
Well, if you weren’t one of those few, this is your chance of changing that my dear readers (which also happens to be a learner’s mindset)

Make It Stick Review

Great book on a hugely important meta-skill: how to learn. 

If you learn how to learn effectively, you will learn more quickly and more efficiently.

And the earlier you learn it, the more rewards you will reap in your life.

Check the best books collection or get the book on Amazon

Scroll to Top