Improving Your Memory
"I'm just not good at taking tests."
"There is too much information for me to remember."
"Sometimes I just get overwhelmed and my mind goes blank."
These are phrases all too common among students when they struggle to remember information. But the fact is, we all struggle to remember information and forget important things. Retaining information is closely linked to academic success since exams are designed to test what you've retained from classroom lectures and personal study. But being able to remember what you've studied is just as critical when you enter the workforce after college.
Bet you've noticed how some things are easier for you to remember than other things. For example, you may find it easy to remember how to play a complex video game but struggle to remember multiplication tables. This describe you? Then join the club. It describes just about everyone. What's important is that there are memory strategies that will help you remember what you really need to remember, when you need to remember it. The strategies we'll introduce to you below will teach you how to memorize and recall important information. These strategies have worked for students everywhere, and they'll work for you too.
The following are proven strategies will help you improve memory retention and ability to recall important information:
- Make the information meaningful
Students often struggle to retain important information because it is unclear or confusing. It's much more difficult to remember concepts when they're not completely understood. In order to remember new information presented to you, in your mind summarize the information you've just learned in your own words. If you are unable to do this, it is a strong sign that you do not fully comprehend the concept you're attempting to learn–and consequently will have difficulty recalling it for future use.
- Organize the information
Organizing information into logical categories is one of the most effective ways of improving recall and memory. For example, if you are trying to memorize vocabulary for a foreign language class, classify words together that have similar meanings or that fall under similar categories. This will enable you to associate words with certain categories that provide context and meaning. Organized information is much, much easier to retain than random information. Another good example of the power of organization as it relates to memory is Human Anatomy. It can be very difficult to memorize the thousands of parts that make up the human body. So how do students do it? Simple. They organize the parts into systems. Once the parts of the body have been organized in to systems, based on function or location, memorizing all the parts of the body becomes very achievable.
"Chunking" is another organization strategy for memorizing information. In fact, you probably already use chunking memory strategies already and don't even realize it. When you memorize a person's phone number, the combination to a lock, or your social security number you use chunking. It's far easier to remember long number when you "chunk" them into small groups of three or four numbers. Why? Because most people can only remember about three or four bits of information at once. So how can you use chunking to improve your memory? Chunk history by events or periods of time when events occurred. Chunk foreign language vocabulary into functional groups like items in a house, car parts, or body parts. Chunck English vocabulary into parts of speech. When you chunk, you simply group information into small groups of three to five times at a time.
- Visualization to improve memory
It's easier to remember a picture rather than details from a book or a lecture. Visualization is one strategy that can be used to remember information that's been read in a text book or spoken during a lecture. This strategy is especially useful when studying abstract or confusing subjects. To apply this strategy, create images in your mind that relate to, or have similarities to, the abstract concept. Visualizing information read or relayed to you will imprint it in your mind, increasing the likelihood you'll remember it.
Visualization is particularly effective for memorizing systems, cycles and processes. For example, let's say for upcoming science test you'll be required to memorize the water cycle. So let's get started. Visualize in your mind a cloud floating high in the sky. Picture the cloud getting bigger and bigger and until it bursts. Now watch as rain pours from the cloud and hits the ground. See the rain form into small streams, then larger rivers as it flows toward lakes and eventually to the ocean. Visualize the sun shinning down on the ocean and evaporating the water and form into clouds which the wind then pushes inland... Anyway, you get the idea, right? Visualization allows you to create a vivid, meaningful and memorable story that allow you to recall information. You can also use maps, charts, graphs, or pictures to help you visualize and remember important material.
- Active Studying
In order to remember or learn a concept, you must practice active studying. If you are passive in your study habits, it will be very difficult to remember what you read or hear during a lecture. One way to be an active studier is to teach the information you are studying to classmates in a study group. You can also critically analyze material you're studying by contrasting it with correlating details or coming up with questions about what you've learned, or finding ways to apply what you've learned. By implementing active study strategies into your personal study, you'll enhance your ability to retain confusing or complicated concepts.
Association involves associating, or "connecting", a word or event with a place, feeling, person, situation, or thing. Association is a very powerful memory strategy that allows the brain to connect something it's already familiar with to something new that it's not familiar with. By connecting the unfamiliar to the familiar, the brain more easily is able to learn and remember the unfamiliar. Association is very effective for learning and remembering vocabulary words. When you are given a new vocabulary word to memorize, write it down, and then the definition next to it. Now write a person, place, thing, event or movie that you're familiar with next to the word, or combine them in a sentence to create a strong association. For example, "My uncle is an ardent democrat". (Ardent meaning intensely devoted.)
- Frequent Reviewing
All students cram for tests at one time or another. Although many people cram right before tests, it is not an effective long-term learning or memorization strategy. It is very difficult to retain information long-term from one or two cramming sessions. The key to memory retention is to frequently review notes and other study materials weeks or days before tests. If possible, review notes immediately following lectures and jot down or highlight information that will probably show up on a test. You should also adapt this strategy after completing textbook reading assignments by reviewing information you highlight and chapter headings. Through repetitive review and study, you will eventually begin to retain the information being learned.
By integrating data, information and material into a vivid story that you can tell, you'll be able to memorize and recall information in any subject. When developing a story for the purpose of enhancing your memory of information, focus on the key learning points and organize them (within the story) in a logical sequence. Why is storytelling such a powerful memorization strategy? Because each event in the story triggers your memory of the next event, so your ability to memorize information is as limitless as your ability to create, remember and tell a story.
Believe it or not, talking is a very powerful–and underutilized–strategy for improving memory. How does it work? Just talk! Talk about what you've learned. Talk about the information you need to remember. Sit down with your Mom, Dad, brother, sister or friend and tell them what you've learned. Struggling to memorize the Kreb Cycle for your upcoming AP Biology test? Then sit down with someone and describe in detail how the Kreb Cycle works. Want to learn history? Then discuss, debate and argue history with someone else. Want to improve your Spanish? Then talk Spanish with someone who will listen–or find a fluent Spanish speaker who will listen to you.
- Mnemonic devices
Many people use mnemonic devices to remember specific details from lectures and reading. Mnemonic devices work by relating facts with short phrases, words that rhyme, or anything else an individual is familiar with. For example, if an important definition that will appear on a test rhymed with the last name of your favorite movie star, you could use this mnemonic device to remember the word.
Another powerful mnemonic device for improving ability to remember important information and details is the use of acronyms. An acronym is a word composed of the first letters of a list of words. How does it work? Easy. You take the list of words that you want to memorize and put them in an order so that the first letters of each word spell a real or made-up word that is easy to remember. An example of a simple acronym is MADD–Mothers Against Drunk Driving
One of the all time most powerful mnemonic devices is music. Want to memorize something and never forget it? Then put it to music, or your favorite song. Want to memorize all the states in the nation? Put them to your favorite song. Want to learn all the countries in the world and never forget them? Put them to your favorite song. Again, if you can create a catchy song, with a tune you're already familiar with, using data or information, you can memorize and remember anything? 30 years later I still know all the cities in the state of Utah by heart after my 2nd grade teacher changed the lyrics of "One little, two little, three little Indians" to "Beaver, Box Elder, Cache and Carbon..." Believe me, it works!