Before you study for your next exam, you might want to use a few strategies to boost your memory of important information. There are a number of tried and tested techniques for improving memory. These strategies have been established within cognitive psychology literature and offer a number of great ways to improve memory, enhance recall and increase retention of information.
1. Focus your attention on the materials you are studying.
Attention is one of the major components of memory. In order for information to move from short-term memory into long-term memory, you need to actively attend to this information. Try to study in a place free of distractions such as television, music and other diversions.
2. Avoid cramming by establishing regular study sessions.
According to Bjork (2001), studying materials over a number of session’s gives you the time you need to adequately process the information. Research has shown that students who study regularly remember the material far better than those who did all of their studying in one marathon session.
3. Structure and organize the information you are studying.
Researchers have found that information is organized in memory in related clusters. You can take advantage of this by structuring and organizing the materials you are studying. Try grouping similar concepts and terms together, or make an outline of your notes and textbook readings to help group related concepts.
4. Utilize mnemonic devices to remember information.
Mnemonic devices are a technique often used by students to aid in recall. A mnemonic is simply a way to remember information. For example, you might associate a term you need to remember with a common item that you are very familiar with. The best mnemonics are those that utilize positive imagery, humor or novelty. You might come up with a rhyme, song or joke to help remember a specific segment of information.
5. Elaborate and rehearse the information you are studying.
In order to recall information, you need to encode what you are studying into long-term memory. One of the most effective encoding techniques is known as elaborative rehearsal. An example of this technique would be to read the definition of a key term, study the definition of that term and then read a more detailed description of what that term means. After repeating this process a few times, your recall of the information will be far better.
6. Relate new information to things you already know.
When you are studying unfamiliar material, take the time to think about how this information relates to things that you already know. By establishing relationships between new ideas and previously existing memories, you can dramatically increase the likelihood of recalling the recently learned information.
7. Visualize concepts to improve memory and recall.
Many people benefit greatly from visualizing the information they study. Pay attention to the photographs, charts and other graphics in your textbooks. If you do not have visual cues to help, try creating your own. Draw charts or figures in the margins of your notes or use highlighters or pens in different colors to group related ideas in your written study materials.
8. Teach new concepts to another person.
Research suggests that reading materials out loud significantly improves memory of the material. Educators and psychologists have also discovered that having students actually teach new concepts to others enhances understanding and recall. You can use this approach in your own studies by teaching new concepts and information to a friend or study partner.
9. Pay extra attention to difficult information.
Have you ever noticed how it’s sometimes easier to remember information at the beginning or end of a chapter? Researchers have found that the order of information can play a role in recall, which is known as the serial position effect. While recalling middle information can be difficult, you can overcome this problem by spending extra time rehearsing this information. Another strategy is to try restructuring the information so it will be easier to remember. When you come across an especially difficult concept, devote some extra time to memorizing the information.
10. Vary your study routine.
Another great way to increase your recall is to occasionally change your study routine. If you are accustomed to studying in one specific location, try moving to a different spot during your next study session. If you study in the evening, try spending a few minutes each morning reviewing the information you studied the previous night. By adding an element of novelty to your study sessions, you can increase the effectiveness of your efforts and significantly improve your long-term recall.
Facts About Memory
Being Tested On Information Actually Helps You Remember It Better
While it may seem like studying and rehearsing information is the best way to ensure that you will remember it, researchers have found that being tested on information is actually one of the best ways to improve recall.
One experiment found that students who studied and were then tested had better long-term recall of the materials, even on information that was not covered by the tests. Students who had extra time to study but were not tested had significantly lower recall of the materials.
Depictions of Amnesia in Movies Are Usually Inaccurate
Amnesia is a common plot device in the movies, but these depictions are often inaccurate. For example, how often have you seen a fictional character lose their memory due to a bump on the head only to have their memories magically restored after suffering a second knock to the skull?
There are two different types of amnesia:
Anterograde amnesia: Involves the loss of the ability to form new memories.
Retrograde amnesia: Involves losing the ability to recollect past memories, although the ability to create new memories may remain intact.
While most movie depictions of amnesia involve retrograde amnesia, anterograde amnesia is actually far more common. The most famous case of anterograde amnesia was a patient known in the literature as H.M. In 1953, he had brain surgery to help stop the seizures caused by his severe epilepsy. The surgery involved the removal of both hippocampi, the regions of the brain strongly associated with memory. As a result, H.M. was no longer able to form any new long-term memories.
Popular movies and television programs tend to depict such memory loss as fairly common, but true cases of complete amnesia about one’s past and identity are actually quite rare.
Some of the most common causes of amnesia include:
- Trauma: A physical trauma, such as a car accident, can cause the victim to lose specific memories of the event itself. Emotional trauma, such as being a victim of childhood sexual abuse, can cause the individual to lose memories of specific situations.
- Drugs: Certain medications can be used to cause temporary amnesia, particularly during medical procedures. Once the drugs wear off, the individual’s memory returns to normal functioning.
A Good Night’s Sleep May Improve Your Memory
You have probably heard about many of the reasons to get a good night’s sleep. Since the 1960s, researchers have noted the important connection between sleep and memory. In one classic experiment conducted in 1994, researchers found that depriving participants of sleep impaired their ability to improve performance on a line identification task.
In addition to aiding in memory, sleep also plays and essential role in learning new information. In one study, researchers found that depriving students of sleep after learning a new skill significantly decreased memory of that skill up to three days later.
Researchers have found, however, that sleep’s influence on procedural memory is much stronger than it is for declarative memory. Procedural memories are those that involve motor and perceptual skills, while declarative memories are those that involve the memorization of facts.
“If you’re going to be tested on 72 irregular French verbs tomorrow, you might as well stay up late and cram”, explained Robert Stickgold, a psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School, in an article published in the APA’s Monitor on Psychology. “But if they’re going to throw a curveball at you and ask you to explain the differences between the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution, you’re better off having gotten some sleep”.