Student Resources: Memory

Improve Your Memory

From many years of teaching, here are my favorite seven ways to improve memory:

1. Visualize what you wish to remember. One theory is that the left part of the brain stores verbal information and the right part stores visual information. If you are only using words to remember, you are only using part of your brain. When you are studying, try to make a mental picture of what you are trying to remember.  If you are studying history and reading about Columbus, imagine what the world looked like at that time and how the people lived.  Complete your mental picture with color, details and even motion.  Imagine that your brain is like a video camera capturing an image.

2.  Organize what you wish to remember. Organize information into groups or categories which have some personal meaning for you. Computers organize information using folders.  Our brain works the same way.  Maybe the computer is a reflection of how our brain is organized!    An outline or mind map  may be useful in helping you organize information in a meaningful way.  It is easiest to remember groups of seven items or less.

3. Use distributed practice. Break down information you need to remember into small parts.  Review frequently over period of time.  For example, if you have 100 words to learn in Spanish, use 3X5 cards.  Put the English word on one side and the Spanish word on the other.   Each day for about 10 days take a few minutes to flip through the cards quickly to see if you can remember what is on the other side.  Turn over the card and review.  You will find that each day you can remember more of the words.  Relax and review quickly if you can't recall. You will soon find that you know all the words.

Distributed practice works because the motivation for learning is higher and fatigue is minimized.  The process of learning continues into the rest period.  Distributed practice is the opposite of "cramming" at the last minute.  Learning a large amount at once is tiring and causes students to become frustrated with the learning process.  

4.  Intend to remember.   Tell yourself that you are going to remember.  If you tell yourself that you are not going to to remember, you will not be able to remember.  After you tell yourself that you are going to remember, back it up with a memory technique.

5.  Consolidate the information.   Information needs to remain in the brain a period of time to be stored as long term memory.  This process takes about 5 seconds.  Keep the information in your brain by using a visual image, reciting the information aloud or in your mind or by writing the information down. The physical act of writing helps to consolidate the information.   Review information frequently. 

Researchers have found that most of the forgetting happens immediately after learning it.  Half of the forgetting happens in the first 20 minutes.  To prevent forgetting, review quickly, immediately and frequently.

6. Be selective.  Focus on the most important points first and the smaller details will be easier to master. Pre-read the chapter before you go to class so you will have an idea of the most important points before you come to class.   Use a highlighter to mark 20% of the most important material in the chapter. Review quickly what you have highlighted.  With practice, it becomes easier to be selective.

7. Use the principle of motivated interest.  We all know that we have no trouble remembering the things that interest us.  If you have a favorite hobby, you can remember details with no problem.   In your studies, try to find interest in the topic.  If you are not interested, pretend that you are.  The more that you know about the topic, the more interesting it becomes and the easier it is to remember.