Study Smarter By Improving Your Memory


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Thursday, June 9, 2022
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Study Smarter By Improving Your Memory

When it comes to studying success, the adage “work smarter, not harder” comes to mind. You want to make sure that the time you spend studying is spent well, and one of the biggest indicators of studying success is your ability to recall what you learned. If you can’t remember what you studied, it’s like you didn’t study at all, so developing good memorization skills is absolutely essential to succeeding. 

Memorization, like any other skill, can be improved with repetition and good working practices. There are simple habits you can enable that will sharpen your recall and make it easier to remember what you learned. Here are a few proven techniques that can help give you a scholar’s memory.

Write It Down

One of the easiest ways to improve your memory is to pick up a pen or pencil. Research has shown that information written down on physical formats is “stickier” and easier to retain than typing it out. Take physical notes whenever you can; it’s a habit that will yield significant returns later when you have to remember what you learned.

Say It Loud

Writing on paper isn’t the only simple thing you can do to improve your memory. Reading your study materials out loud has proven to be an effective method for strengthening your memory. Make a habit of reciting your work out loud whenever you can to help it sink in and solidify.

Learn A New Skill

Think of your brain like a muscle: giving it a workout makes it stronger. The same goes for our capacity for memory. Studies have shown that learning something new can improve our mental cognition, memory retention, and focus. The trick is to pick up a hobby or learn a skill that takes you out of your comfort zone—that process of challenging yourself mentally keeps your mind active and responsive. It also gives you something to focus on when you take a break from your studies.

  • A few examples of things you could learn to improve your memory include:
  • Playing chess
  • Master a musical instrument
  • Learn how to dance, do a martial art, or some other form of intensive movement
  • Pick up a new language
  • Experiment with a tactile form of creativity like painting or sculpting

Don’t Cram

Space out your studies; don’t try to learn everything at the last minute. In a pinch, hitting the books extra hard the night before an exam can help you pass it but that kind of frantic cramming is only beneficial in the short-term. In terms of long-term retention, it’ll be as though you never learned it at all; your mind needs time to absorb and retain important information. Research has shown that students who regularly study remember their material far better than those who do all their studying in a marathon night-before session. Consider the parable of the tortoise and hare and go with the slow and steady approach.

Chunk It Out

Humans have a tendency to recall information in cluster form. We form associations between types of knowledge, grouping them together to make them easier to remember. It’s easier for our cognition to process information in these meaningful groups called chunks. If you want to remember something,  batching it together with similar pieces of information makes it much easier to recall. As you study, try to create chunks by making an outline of your notes and textbook readings. See what ideas can be tied together, and don’t be afraid to follow your instincts. If it’s easier for you to recall unconnected ideas, or if reading one thing makes you think of something else entirely, don't fight that tendency. The point is to group information together in a way that makes sense to YOU.

Mnemonic Devices & Memory Palaces

A very effective technique for remembering chunks of information is to render them as mnemonic devices. Mnemonic devices can be acronyms, rhymes, songs, or jokes. The trick is that each letter (or the first letter in a word if the device is a phrase) is tied to a “bit” of information you’re trying to recall.

A classic example of a mnemonic device is “my very excellent mother just served us nine pizzas.” This sentence contains the order of the planets in our solar system: “My (Mercury) Very (Venus) Excellent (Earth) Mother (Mars) Just (Jupiter) Served (Saturn) Us (Uranus) Nine (Neptune) Pizzas (Pluto).” (Yes, we will concede that Pluto is now considered a “dwarf planet,” but it’s still a fun example.)

Another approach to this technique that actors in theater use is to associate a physical location with something they’re trying to remember. For example: an actor might look at a fire alarm at the back of the audience and associate a hard to remember line with that “focal point” so whenever they look at it the line will come to mind. If you’re studying at home, you can apply this trick to your own living space. Learning in a classroom on campus? There are all sorts of objects in your classroom that you can map information onto.

You can also do this inside your head by visualizing a familiar landscape or room and populating it with these kinds of memory triggers. It’s a technique that was very popular among medieval scholars, monks, and mystics called memory palaces.

Flash Cards

There’s a reason why flash cards are so popular: they work! Flash cards visualize the information you’re trying to recall and encourage retention by practicing with them. An added benefit of using flash cards is that it’s a study activity you can do with a partner, so it can be a nice break from the often-solitary practice of studying on your own.

Break It Up

Putting your nose to the grindstone and studying for hours at a time might sound impressive but it actually pays off to work for shorter periods of time. Taking regular breaks helps keep your mind fresh and reduces stress. It also helps your eyes if you’re working with a computer; the blue light that computer screens emit can fatigue your eyes and wear you out after long periods of time. It’s important for your mental and physical health to give yourself time away from your books and screens to “cool down” and let what you’ve already learned settle. Think of it like baking a pie—you have to let it cool off for a bit before it’s done.

On a related note: getting plenty of sleep is crucial for your memory. Sleep deprivation can impair your cognition and ability to recall information; your mind needs time to rest and process what it’s learned. Make sure you don’t short-change yourself in the sleep department or you will pay for it later.

Eat Smarter

There's an old saying in computer programming: "Garbage in, garbage out." If you don't eat right your mind won't function at its highest level. That's why you want to make a point of eating foods rich with omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, curcumin, vitamin E, vitamin K, magnesium, zinc, copper, vitamin C, choline, and iron. All these nutrients and minerals have an impact on your brain’s health; if you’re finding it hard to get information to stick, it may very well come down to you not getting enough key vitamins in your diet.

Foods that can help improve your memory include:

  • Blueberries
  • Coffee
  • Fatty fish (salmon, trout, albacore tuna)
  • Broccoli
  • Turmeric
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Dark chocolate
  • Nuts
  • Citrus fruits
  • Green tea
  • Eggs
  • Avocados
  • Ginseng


Article by Austin Brietta

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