Memory, which is the process of maintaining information over a long period of time, is an important part of daily life. Without memory we wouldn’t be able to adapt to the world around us, recall places we’ve been, people we’ve met, or things we’ve learned.
Not only does memory play a crucial role in everyday life, but there are situations where we need to memorize specific information, such as when studying for an exam or preparing for a presentation or speech. This piece addresses specific techniques you can use for memorizing information.
Before beginning to prepare, it is important to set yourself up for success. Make sure to start your preparations in advance so that you can avoid having to cram or lose sleep. It’s also important to reduce distractions and avoid negative thinking patterns, as stress can have a negative impact on your ability to concentrate and memorize information. You might also consider preparing before going to sleep, as sleeping between learning sessions can help your brain consolidate memories and retain information.
The tips below, as well as the visual at the end of this post from the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences, outline 8 science-backed techniques for retaining information and improving recall.
- Organize the information
Outline the information you want to recall by organizing the information in a way that makes sense to you. This process will enable you to break down and hone in on important concepts.
You can do this by creating a list, using charts, or even the chunking method. This organization strategy puts words, numbers, or concepts into functional groups, allowing you to visualize patterns and make connections more easily. See an example in the visual below.
- Make associations
You can create associations by drawing on existing knowledge and making connections with sounds, tastes, and smells. Interestingly, smells can even trigger memories from years back.
One classic example of how making associations reinforces memory, is the Baker/baker paradox. This paradox demonstrates that when two individuals need to remember someone’s last name is Baker, it is easier for them to do so when they associate the individual with a professional baker. Essentially, they picture the individual wearing a classic chef’s hat and that reinforces the fact that their last name is Baker.
- Use visual cues
Simplifying information using graphs, charts, and concept maps makes it easier to comprehend. Illustrations and photographs can be particularly helpful for visual learners who better conceptualize information that they can see.
If you are giving a presentation you might consider adding visual cues for your own benefit and not just to spice up your slide deck. Visual cues in presentations act as retrieval cues, which can help you keep your talk on track.
- Create mnemonics
Mnemonic devices, such as acronyms, acrostics, and rhymes, are a good way to memorize information long-term. Many of us still remember some of the rhymes we learned in school. For example, perhaps you are able to recall how many days are in each month by drawing on the following rhyme:
Thirty days hath September,
April, June, and November;
All the rest have thirty-one,
Save February, with twenty-eight days clear,
And twenty-nine each leap year.
- Write it down
Studies show that writing down information by hand is more effective than typing for learning concepts. Maybe it’s true after all; some things are just better done the old-fashioned way. Since it takes longer to write by hand, you are naturally forced to be more selective with what you choose to write down. This helps you hone in on key information.
One study showed that the more words students wrote down verbatim when note taking, the worse they performed on recall tests. It turns out that less is more when it comes to note taking.
- Say it out loud
Since memory benefits from active involvement, it is helpful to read information you are trying to memorize out loud. The dual action of speaking and hearing yourself talk actually aids the process of getting words and phrases into long-term memory
- Engage in active recall
As previously mentioned, memory benefits from active involvement. Testing yourself, using flashcards or another method, forces you to pull information from your memory. When trying to commit concepts to memory, retrieval practice appears to be superior to continuing to read over materials. One study concluded that retrieval practice may produce better learning than restudy even under an emotional arousal context.
Rehearsing information by either writing it down or reading it aloud is particularly helpful when preparing for a presentation. Practice, practice, practice. During this process, however, it is important to take breaks. Studies suggest that spacing out learning over a longer period of time aids in your ability to memorize that information. It’s important to avoid cramming too much information into your brain over a short period of time.
Bio: Julia Morrissey is a content creator for University of St. Augustine, an accredited graduate-level institution with an innovative approach to health science education.