Improving Memory

There are tons of articles online about improving your memory.  A quick search will bring up pages and pages of results.  I spent a few minutes clicking at random and then a few more sorting through the articles I chose.  Here are three of my favorites:

  • Discovery Health has a good piece about improving general memory that should help with aspects of your life outside of your studies.  I am including it at the top of the list because it provides a good base (and also because their first tip is to drink a glass of wine, which is both unorthodox and totally awesome).
  • For a quicker read that involves less clicking, try this WikiHow article that has 15 good tips and links to a bunch of other articles that may be helpful to your more specific situation.
  • If you want to know more about what memories are and how your brain works to create lasting memories, check out this article on HelpGuide.org.  It spells things out scientifically in ways that are actually comprehensible to people without much psychological training like myself.

But what about improving your memory specifically for your studies?  Learning things for school is a particularly difficult task because it involves a certain amount of precision and recall that is not normally required in “real life.”  After all, we can almost always hop on the internet and look up something when we’re not in a classroom taking a final exam.

The best way I found to make sure I actually remembered something in school was to make studying an active process.  Reading and highlighting your text book or paying close attention in class may help create a base from which you can work, but it’s unlikely that you’ll remember quite enough to ace your exams just from reading.  To make lasting memories, you need to make your studying something you do rather than something that just happens to you.  I touched on this in another post, but let’s go a little deeper this time.

Your process for test preparation should place your mind in a state similar to the conditions of the test itself.  In other words, you need to test yourself repeatedly before the test begins.  If you know that you will be required to do certain types of math problems then don’t just look over the formulas — try doing sample problems without referencing your text books or class notes.  If you know you’re going to have to write an essay explaining an idea or historical event then don’t just read about it — try writing about that idea or event.  This way you won’t just be remembering the starting point (the equations or the basic facts) but the act of using the ideas you have taught yourself.

If there is one central idea to take from the myriad of articles on improving your memory available online, it’s that lasting memories make their home in more than one place in your brain.  The human brain is a complex thing, with hallways and passages leading every which way.  The more anchors that you can link an idea to, the easier it will be to remember it.  That’s why actively engaging your brain (and optimally the brains of your classmates) in the study process is so essential.  So study often, study actively, and study with others whenever you can.

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