Tang Fellow Christine Marshall created SYNAPSE, a toolkit to help students work smarter, not harder. SYNAPSE stands for: Simplify, Yes, Narrate, Associate, Personalize, Sleep, Exercise. Each of these words represents one of the seven stages in the process of knowledge acquisition, identified by Christine Marshall using research into the brain science of learning.


Throughout Phillips Academy’s curriculum, the SYNAPSE approach helps students understand their brains. Through biological self-awareness, students are able to make decisions about their studies that help their learning progress in measurable ways. Another benefit of the project is that Christine Marshall offers SYNAPSE to the public through a website of the same name and a forthcoming graphic novel for first-year college students, extending SYNAPSE’s impact to individuals outside of Phillips Academy. The well-evidenced approach is poised to make its way into the conscience of a wide audience of students.


The biggest challenge for the SYNAPSE project was finding the right student audience. While the classroom applications of the process have shown marketable growth in students’ ability to study well, the target audience for the publication has recently been identified as college freshmen.

Takeaways & Best Practices

  • SYNAPSE helps students understand their own cognitive process. By taking a biological approach to knowledge acquisition, students can experience real improvements in their learning through a set of seven simple steps.
  • Learning stress is reduced through SYNAPSE. By systemizing the learning process, students can take actionable steps to improve their academic outcomes.
  • Insight into the biology of learning is offered to a public audience.

Bottom Line

SYNAPSE helps students understand their own learning through the study of biology, extending the Tang Institute’s impact within and outside of Phillips Academy.

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