Memory Tips

20 Memory Tips

(From Ellis, D., Becoming a Master Student, 11th Ed.)

Organize it: Organized information is easier to find

1. Be selective: There’s a different between gaining understanding and drowning in information. You will be exposed to thousands of facts and ideas, and no one expects you to memorize them all. To a large degree, the art of memory is the art of selecting what to remember in the first place. As you dig into your texts and notes, make choices about what is most important to learn. Imagine you are going to create a test on the material and consider the questions you would ask. When reading, look for chapter previews, summaries, and review questions. Notice what is printed in bold type. Also notice visual elements—tables, charts, graphs, and illustrations. During lectures, notice what the instructor emphasizes. 

2. Make it meaningful: One ways to create meaning is to learn from the general to the specific. Start with the main ideas and bigger concepts then focus on the details. You can organize lists to make things meaningful. Wurman (1989) proposes five principles for organizing anybody of ideas, facts, or objects: a. Organize by time: events in history or in a novel flow in chronological order b. Organize by location: physical addresses c. Organize by category: subject areas or types d. Organize by continuum: highest to lowest e. Organize by alphabet:  

3. Create associations: Information already encoded in your neural networks is arranged according to a scheme that makes sense to you. When you introduce new data, you can remember more effectively if you associate it with similar or related data. 

Use your body: Learning is an active process; get all of your senses involved

4. Learn it once, actively: Action is a great memory enhancer. Imagine studying in the same way you dance or play a sport. Test out theories for yourself. For example, if you are studying, physiological reactions to stress, notice how your own body responds to stress. Or if you are learning about good bedside manner, observe how your preceptors and residents talk to patients. The point is to go beyond thinking about information. Sit up straight or stand when you study, use your hands when reviewing information, recite information out loud. Get your whole body involved in studying.  

5. Relax: when you’re relaxed, you absorb new information quickly and recall it with greater ease and accuracy. Students who can’t recall info under stress of an exam can often recite the same facts later when they are relaxed. Relaxation does not contradict active learning b/c relaxation is a state of alertness, free of tension, during which your mind can play with new information, rolling around, create associations with it, and apply it to many other memory techniques. You can be active and relaxed.  

6. Create pictures: Draw diagrams; make cartoons; use images to connect facts and illustrate relationships. Associations within and among abstract concepts can be “seen” and recalled more easily when they are visualized. Visual information is associated with a part of the brain that is different from the part that processes verbal information. When you create a picture of a concept, you are anchoring the information in a second part of the brain and increasing the chance of recalling the information. (time slows down near a vacuum)  

7. Recite and repeat: When you repeat something out loud, you anchor the concept in two different senses. First, you get the physical sensation in your throat, tongue, and lips when voicing the concept. Second, you hear it. The combined result is synergistic. The out loud part is important. Reciting silently in your head can be useful—in the library for example—but it is not as effective as making noise. Your mind can trick itself into thinking it knows something when it doesn’t. Your ears are harder to fool. Repetition is important, too. Repetition is a common memory device because it works. It blazes a trail through the pathways of your brain, making the information easier to find. Repeat a concept out loud until you know it, then say it five more times. Repetition works best when you recite concepts in your own words. Have some fun with this. Recite by writing a song about what you’re learning and sing in the shower or imitate someone else, such as Bill Cosby or Clint Eastwood.  

8. Write it down: Writing a note to yourself helps you remember an idea even if you never look at the note again. Writing engages a different kind of memory than speaking. It prompts us to be more logical, coherent, and complete. It also more closely matches the way we’re asked to remember materials in school. Finally, writing is physical, thus an active process. 

Use your brain

9. Engage your emotions: Emotions are found in the amygdala. You are more likely to remember material when you feel strongly about it. Get emotionally attached to the material to help you remember.  

10. Over learn: One way to fight mental fuzziness is to learn more than you need to know about a subject simply to pass a test.  

11. Escape the short-term memory trap: Short-term memory can fade within a few minutes, and it rarely lasts longer than several hours. A short review within minutes or hours of a study session can move material from short-term memory into long-term memory.  

12. Use your times of peak energy: Study your most difficult subjects during the times when you energy peaks. Many people can concentrate more effectively during day light hours, especially early morning. Observe the peaks and valleys in your energy flow and adjust study times accordingly.  

13. Distribute learning: Try shorter, spaced out study sessions rather than marathon study sessions. By taking periodic breaks, you allow information to sink in.  

14. Be aware of attitudes: When we believe that something is boring or difficult, we have a more difficult time recalling that information. Remind yourself that everything is related to everything else and look for connections that relate to your interests. For example, you may not enjoy systems theory but you really like patient care, so relate the systems theory to a specific patient you’ve worked with.  

15. Give your “secret” brain a chance: Sometimes other information can interfere with new information we’re learning. For example, if you just leave a lecture and then start reading the remainder of the mystery novel you’ve been wanting to finish, the gripping drama of the whodunit can push aside the information you just learned in the lecture. Instead, give yourself some time to absorb the info by having a conversation about it or doing something less absorbing for a little bit.  

16. Combine techniques: All of these techniques work better in combination.

Recall it 

17. Remember something else: When you are stuck and can’t remember something you’re sure you know, remember something else that is related to it. Can’t remember your great-aunt’s name, remember your great-uncle’s name. Information is coded in the same area of the brain as similar information. You can unblock your recall by stimulating that area of your memory.  

18. Notice when you do remember: Notice when you recall information easily and ask yourself what memory techniques you’re using naturally. 

19. Use it before you lose it: Even information encoded in long-term memory becomes difficult to recall when we don’t use it regularly. To remember something, access it a lot. Read it, write it, speak it, listen to it, apply. Another way to make contact with material is to teach it. Teaching demands mastery. Study groups are especially effective for testing out your knowledge.  

20. Adopt the attitude that you never forget: Test the concept. Instead of saying, “I don’t remember,” say, “it will come to me.” Use positive affirmations that support you in developing your memory.