Learn Without Forgetting

memory skills

Memory Skills - Learn Without Forgetting

Article by:
William Soh
PGDE – National Institute of Education (Distinction), Nanyang Technological University
BSc – Biomedical Sciences (Honours), National University of Singapore

You will be surprised to see how easy it can be to remember difficult concepts once you establish good study habits

READ OUT LOUD

Read your materials out loud

Using multiple senses can help you retain more information, so even just saying the words out loud and then hearing them can be helpful

Don’t worry about looking foolish reading your Physics notes to your hamster

You’ll be happy if it helps you ace your next exam

This strategy might work best when there are a few key items you need to remember

That’s because the sentences you speak (or even whisper) out loud take on a special distinctiveness

You remember producing and hearing the items, and so your memory for them is different from the memory of the words you read silently

If you’re in the library or somewhere else where you can’t speak aloud, try softly or quietly mouthing the information

LEARNING VISUALLY 

The process of organizing the materials in a visual manner can help your brain recall the information in a systematic manner, and is one of the very effective memory skills

Write out what you have to memorize

Writing an outline, taking notes on what you have read, or simply re-writing over and over a tricky formula or concept that you are trying to master can really help

Writing uses a different part of the brain than reading

When you take the time to write down a concept during or after reviewing the material, you’ll cover the concept a second time

Visual learners will find this extremely helpful. Auditory learners should consider reading the material aloud as well

Write out flashcards with important facts, formulas or dates

This method is doubly helpful because 1. The act of writing will help you remember better and 2. The flashcards are a portable tool you can use for future review because they contain all the information that is essential for memory retention – and doing well for that difficult exam

You are in effect teaching the content to yourself when you summarize and analyze it

PRACTICE TESTS

Once you finish a practice test, research the material you did not know, and try another test again in a few days

Remember not to limit your studies to only those items found on the practice exam

Chances are, your actual exam will include all of the information you’ve been assigned to study, not just questions you found on a previous or practice test

READING SEVERAL TIMES WILL HELP YOU REMEMBER

One reason that many people don’t read much is that they don’t read well

For them, reading is slow, hard work and they don’t manage to remember as much as they should

Students, for example, may have to read something several times before they understand and remember what they read

Some of the blame for poor reading skills can be laid at the feet of parents who set poor examples and, of course, on the students themselves who are too lazy to learn how to read well

DEVELOP GOOD READING AND MEMORY SKILLS

These methods will help you read with good speed and comprehension:

KNOW WHY YOU MUST READ THIS MATERIAL

Be clear to yourself what you want to get out of it in terms of content absorption, and how to answer application questions

SKIM FIRST

Even material that must be studied carefully should be skimmed first

The idea here isn’t to skip the whole reading process

Instead, you’ll want to skim the text for important topics and keywords before-hand so that you know what to expect when you actually dig into the material

Being familiar with the general themes will help you remember the details

Skimming 1. Primes the memory, and makes it easier to remember when you read it the second time 2. Orients the thinking and helps you know where the important content is in the document

Depending on the learning objective, you should slow down and read carefully only the parts that contribute to fulfilling the reading purpose

Proper skimming includes putting an emphasis on the headings, pictures, graphs, tables, and key paragraphs – which are usually at the beginning and at the end

HIGHLIGHT THE IMPORTANT PORTION

Many students already use highlighter pens to identify key parts of a text

But many students either highlight too much or highlight the wrong things

Use a highlighter to mark a FEW key points to act as the basis for mental pictures and reminder cues

It is crucial to think about the meaning of the text

Add key words in the margins if you don’t find useful clues to highlight

Make a note to yourself which concepts you find confusing, interesting or crucial that you need to research further on the internet, and which are useful for you to create notes and/or flashcards with

Highlighted text needs to be rehearsed in the context of how it fits with the purpose, why it needs to be remembered, and how it fits with important material that preceded it

Every few paragraphs or pages – depending on the information density – the reader should stop and self-quiz to make sure the important material is being understood and memorized

Making outline notes of such material after it is first read can be an important rehearsal aid for forming immediate memory, and for later study

The act of creating such an outline from short term memory, and checking it against the content just read, supports memory formation in very powerful ways

CONNECT THE DOTS

Learning to make connections when you consume information pays dividends

While you study, think of the various ways that the information you are reading, watching or listening to is connected to one another

This is called contextual learning

Try to group related information on one flashcard

LEARN UNEVENLY

Do not spend time trying to memorize absolutely everything equally well

Instead, focus on key concepts that underlie the others

If you focus your time on learning the most critical piece or concept, then you might be able to recall other pieces by association or logical derivation

THINK IN IMAGES

Pictures are much easier to memorize than words

Pictures become easier to remember when they are clustered into similar groups, or when they are chained together to tell a story

The highlighted key words in text, for example – if used as a starting point for mental pictures – then become very useful for memorization

Spot the key words and think of the associated mental images

Sometimes it helps to also make mental images of headings and sub-headings as these help tremendously with memory skills

REHEARSE, AS THIS IS ONE OF THE KEY MEMORY SKILLS

The more you read the material, the stronger your memory will be

Read in short segments – a few paragraphs to a few pages, depending on content density – all the while thinking about and paraphrasing the meaning of what is written

Think about the content in each segment in terms of how it satisfies the purpose for reading

Ask yourself questions about the content: “How does this information fit what I already know and don’t know? Why did the author say that? Do I understand what this means? What is the evidence? Do I agree with ideas or conclusions? Why or why not? What is the practical application? How much of this do I need to memorize?”

To ensure that you are able to recall the information that you have been memorizing, see how many of the mental pictures you can reconstruct

Rehearse the mental pictures every day or so for the first few days after reading

AND THEN REHEARSE AGAIN, TO ENHANCE YOUR MEMORY SKILLS

At the end of the reading session, rehearse what you learned right away

Avoid distractions and multi-tasking because they interfere with the consolidation processes that enable longer-term memory

Think about and rehearse what you read at least twice later that day

Rehearse again at least once for the next 2 to 3 days

STAY WITHIN YOUR ATTENTION SPAN

Paying attention is central to memorization

Trying to read when you can’t concentrate is wasting time, and highly frustrating

Since most people have short attention spans, they should not try to read dense material for more than 10 or 15 minutes at a time

After such intense sessions, they should take a break and quiz themselves on what they just read

Take a break when you feel tired

FEELING GOOD ABOUT YOURSELF

Don’t tell yourself, “I will never be able to learn this”

Be patient with yourself when you learn new and difficult content

If you are in a bad mood about having to study, you will most likely not have a productive study session

Try to adopt a positive mindset, and you will have an easier time learning the important material

YOUR OPTIMAL STUDY TIMES AFFECT YOUR MEMORY SKILLS

Take the time to think about when you are most alert and able to concentrate

For some, this may be immediately after school or CCA

Others may prefer to take a break after school and relax a bit before opening the books

Regardless of when you choose to study, you will be able to retain more information if you study a bit each day – for 30 to 60 minutes at a time – rather than cramming at the last minute

Short study sessions help the synapses in your brain process information much better than lots of information in long sessions

Remember that you must take breaks in your study schedule. Breaks give your brain the chance to absorb what you just studied

Take a short walk, run an errand for your mum, or play with your pet

A fresh mind absorbs much better than a tired mind

CHOOSE A GOOD LOCATION TO STUDY

You need to find a quiet space free of distractions, such as a library or an isolated area of your house

By choosing a regular spot at home to study, your brain will become conditioned into knowing that you have to absorb study material once you get there

STAY ORGANIZED

Get in the zone

Create the ideal study space, and gather all the books and items you will need

Sit in a peaceful environment

Go where there are no distractions, nothing that will visually catch your eye

Avoiding “shiny objects” will allow you to focus on what it is you need to memorize

That means no mobile phones, or those cat clocks with the eyes that move back and forth

Disorganized notes or a messy study area are enemies to your memory

By creating order in your environment, you cultivate order in your mind, so that you can better memorize facts, analyze content and recall them later

GET ENOUGH SLEEP

Experiencing a period of stress or anxiety has a significant impact on your mental state and can make you more forgetful

Sleep deprivation, which often goes hand-in-hand with periods of elevated stress, is a common cause of forgetfulness because it affects the brain’s ability to store and recall memories

When you sleep, your brain converts facts from short-term memory to long-term memory

Even a short nap can help with this process

If you study in the afternoon and don’t have time for a nap then, review your notes or flashcards at night before going to bed

Aim to get 9 hours of sleep each night during the regular school term, as this is the optimal level for teenagers and young students

TEACH SOMEONE ELSE, AS THIS WILL HELP WITH MEMORY SKILLS

Using your brain to figure out a way to teach the material to someone else causes you to think about the material more in-depth and analytically

By teaching the concept to someone else, you will be able to figure out for yourself which materials you need to further study

If you find that you can’t explain it, you might want to go back and re-read

Similar to reading out loud, talking about what you are learning can also help you retain the information better

You can either study with a friend and quiz each other, or you can try to teach the material to a parent or younger sibling

NUTRITION AND MEMORY SKILLS

A poor diet results in general sluggishness, which hinders our ability to think and remember clearly

When your body doesn’t get an adequate supply of nutrients and energy, it negatively impacts your brain function

Deficiencies in certain vitamins also have been shown to decrease memory skills

For example, vitamin B12 plays a key role in healthy brain and nerve function

A vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to neurological problems such as confusion, poor concentration and forgetfulness

Insufficient levels of folic acid – which is another B vitamin – also appear to negatively impact concentration and memory

KEEP PRACTISING THESE MEMORY SKILLS

Sometimes, methods that worked last year may not work this year, because all of us have changing needs and priorities

It is best to try out most of these memory skills methods to see which works well for you

Article written for Star Tutors

Star Tutors
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Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this article are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from Star Tutors or its editors

All health content on star-tutors.org is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your own healthcare provider

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