forget so much of what they hear, as much as 70% - so if you rely on 'absorbing'
information naturally (as you were probably able to do at Primary
school where the pace was less hectic!) you will not absorb enough to
do really well in exams.
Anyone can improve his/her ability to recall information.
Building a strong memory is much like building strong muscles. It takes
the right techniques and practice. There really is no such thing as a
bad memory. There are, however, plenty of people who don't learn how to
effectively develop their memory abilities - as a result, they think they
have "bad" memories.
Action is the key to good memory
You take action to receive, store, remember, and
use information you have learned.
On a computer system, information must be first be entered
(usually via the keyboard or microphone or via the CD or Internet link).
That entering of information is important - it must be done carefully
and also verified, to make sure that what has been entered is correct!
But entering alone is not enough! You must then store it by saving it
in a file - this is often done at the time you verify it. Once stored,
you must take some action to retrieve the information at a later date
- you have to call up the file and open it again. So, memory includes two kinds of action - action
to store and action to remember or recall - to do that you
have to know where you put the information. In your case entering information is done through your
senses - via your eyes, ears, sense of touch, taste and/or smell. Verification
is checking the information - entering it more than once or via more
than one route - to ensure it is correct. There are several ways of
storing information. When you save a file on the computer the disc is
coded with information - it is 'written' into the memory. How can we
do this with our biological brains? It is well known that some actions are very effective
to store information in memory.
Practice is a very effective action to store information.
There are several ways to 'practice'. The most frequently used practice
is repetition. That is, saying the material again and again. Rote
learning has a hard press! It is unfashionable because people say
to learn you must understand not recite! True! Deep understanding
leads to learning at depth, but that cannot happen unless you can
recall the dates, facts or vocabulary needed for expression of the
'deep' understanding. So many people want to 'learn' science without
learning any terminology or units!
Many people learn phone numbers, names, dates, and
other facts by repitition - saying a fact over and over until it
is 'in' your memory! (Perhaps singing it - making a rhyme of it...
whatever - but repeating it until it is known!)
Memory experts have demonstrated that organization
is very important for memory. Organization means that you can relate
ideas to each other rather than just knowing them as separate facts.
Learning keyword lists so that a topic name sets off a list
of terms that you should use when explaining that topic! It is like
creating a file folder in which you put similar items. You organize
your memory by paying attention to main ideas and active reading
- making skeleton notes, mind maps or webs, word trees - and then
practising them until they are fixed in your long term memory.
You will remember much more if you focus your attention
only on the information you are studying. Memory can only accept
one source of information at a time. If you have several "things" on your mind, you will have trouble getting them into your memory.
You can focus your attention by using PAT
- lists of key words and facts for recall - organized into mind
maps or something similar - and a set of questions that you
should be able to answer once the topic is learnt!You must also
make sure you understand what you are learning. It is very difficult
to remember something you don't understand. Regularly ask yourself,
"What does this mean?"
"How is this like something else I know?"
If you don't understand you must ask a member
of Staff or a friend - do not hope to get by on recall alone!
- Practise the work you have prepared (see above)
- find out how much you can recall
getting information out of your memory at a later date. Most of
us have, at least one or two times, been taking a test and not been
able to recall an answer to a question. When told the answer later,
many say something like, "I knew that! Why couldn't I remember!" This is pretty frustrating; but, fortunately, there are ways to
reduce this kind of forgetting.
This practice is different from the practice to get information
in memory. You want to practice recalling information. You can do
this by answering test questions from old tests and other questions
that you or others make up. You can also discuss the material with
others by asking and answering questions.
Finally, you can practice recalling by mentally asking yourself
questions about the material. You can do this while studying at
home and while going to school, riding in a car, or walking alone.
One very effective way to improve memory is to review regularly.
Review will also help you recall and learn the material well. You
should review by reading your textbook and notes, asking yourself
questions, checking to see if your memory is accurate and complete,
and by reading and writing summaries. Regular review means that
you review in some way all material at least once a month. After
initial learning you should check that you remember - then make
an appointment with yourself to review the work again in a couple
of days - then a week, then a fortnight and then monthly - the better
you remember it the greater the time interval between reviews will
Memory improves through
action you take to remember.
The more action you take, the better your
memory will be.
Popular Memory Tools
- Mnemonics! Imaging
You can make up an image about any information.
The image does not have to be realistic; in fact, very unusual images
are usually easier to remember.
To make up an image try to find a picture, pattern,
or similarity to something you have seen. Then, let your imagination
create a picture that includes the main points of the material.
For example, you might imagine a poster with a name
or event printed on it and a picture illustrating the event or the
person's deeds. You could think of a sequence of events as a comic
strip. You could imagine a famous event as a painting.
The important actions to take when making an image
are to identify the ideas, facts, and main points you want to remember.
Then, include these ideas in your image. Some people actually draw
their images while others just imagine them.
An acronym is a word or group of words made from
a longer message. Acronyms are effective for memory because they
are shorter and easier to remember. And, you must be active to create
A well known acronym to help remember the great
lakes is HOMES. The letters stand for Huron, Ontario, Michigan,
Erie, Superior. Acronyms are easiest to remember when the letters
make up a word or sentence.
Acronyms can be used to remember anything including
names, places, main points, dates, events, formulas, ideas, and
To make up acronyms look at the information you
must remember. See if you can make up words or sentences using letters
from words or parts of words. An acronym will work for you if you
think carefully when you make it up and practice remembering it.
An acronym doesn't have to "work" or make sense to anyone
else. If you improve your memory with an acronym, that's what counts.
A well known memory technique is to associate or
think of two or more things together that you must remember. This
action is called "Peg Words" because you create pegs like
those on a coat rack to hang up the ideas you want to remember.
The first step is to develop your "pegs." Most people use numbers and pictures to create pegs.
To remember, you pair the ideas, main points, dates,
names, etc. you want to recall with the pegs.
Rhymes have been used with small children to remember
stories for centuries and are very good to improve memory. Rhymes
can be used with any information.
A common rhyme is, "i before e, except after
c, or when sounded like 'a' in neighbour and weigh." Because
of the rhyme, an easily forgotten spelling rule can be recalled.
The same idea can be used to remember any information including
main ideas, dates, names, places, formulas, etc.
To make a rhyme, examine the ideas, names, dates,
main points you must remember. Try to arrange the ideas so that
they rhyme like a poem. You can add words and ideas to create a
story poem if needed.
Recitation is a way of practicing information that
must be memorized. Most often recitation is repeating the information
from memory, usually in front of someone. Recitation can be done
with family, parents, friends, classmates, and in study groups.
The action of recitation is telling the information
you must remember to someone who can correct you. Many students
use recitation to practice memorizing passages from literature such
as a scene from a play or a poem. But, recitation is just as good
to remember names, main points, dates, events, and ideas. It is
most important to remember that, when you use recitation, you must
also concentrate on the meaning and not just blankly repeat - after
all a good actress doesn't just say the lines - though say them