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11 Great Ways to Improve Your Memory

Research-Proven Techniques That Really Work

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Do you find yourself forgetting where you left your keys or blanking out information on important tests? Fortunately, there are plenty of things that you can do to help improve your memory.

Before your next big exam, be sure to check out some of these tried and tested techniques for improving memory. These research-proven strategies can effectively improve memory, enhance recall, and increase retention of information.

1. Focus your attention on the materials you are studying.

Students reading in library
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Attention is one of the major components of memory. In order for information to move from short-term memory into long-term memory, you need to actively attend to this information. Try to study in a place free of distractions such as television, music, and other diversions.

2. Avoid cramming by establishing regular study sessions.

According to Bjork (2001), studying materials over a number of session's gives you the time you need to adequately process the information. Research has shown that students who study regularly remember the material far better than those who do all of their studying in one marathon session.

3. Structure and organize the information you are studying.

Woman placing post-its on a wall
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Researchers have found that information is organized in memory in related clusters. You can take advantage of this by structuring and organizing the materials you are studying. Try grouping similar concepts and terms together, or make an outline of your notes and textbook readings to help group related concepts.

4. Utilize mnemonic devices to remember information.

Mnemonic devices are a technique often used by students to aid in recall. A mnemonic is simply a way to remember information. For example, you might associate a term you need to remember with a common item that you are very familiar with. The best mnemonics are those that utilize positive imagery, humor, or novelty. You might come up with a rhyme, song, or joke to help remember a specific segment of information.

5. Elaborate and rehearse the information you are studying.

In order to recall information, you need to encode what you are studying into long-term memory. One of the most effective encoding techniques is known as elaborative rehearsal. An example of this technique would be to read the definition of a key term, study the definition of that term and then read a more detailed description of what that term means. After repeating this process a few times, you'll probably notice that recalling the information is much easier.

6. Relate new information to things you already know.

When you are studying unfamiliar material, take the time to think about how this information relates to things that you already know. By establishing relationships between new ideas and previously existing memories, you can dramatically increase the likelihood of recalling the recently learned information.

7. Visualize concepts to improve memory and recall.

Many people benefit greatly from visualizing the information they study. Pay attention to the photographs, charts, and other graphics in your textbooks. If you do not have visual cues to help, try creating your own. Draw charts or figures in the margins of your notes or use highlighters or pens in different colors to group related ideas in your written study materials.

8. Teach new concepts to another person.

Research suggests that reading materials out loud significantly improves memory of the material. Educators and psychologists have also discovered that having students actually teach new concepts to others enhances understanding and recall. You can use this approach in your own studies by teaching new concepts and information to a friend or study partner.

9. Pay extra attention to difficult information.

Have you ever noticed how it's sometimes easier to remember information at the beginning or end of a chapter? Researchers have found that the order of information can play a role in recall, which is known as the serial position effect.

While recalling middle information can be difficult, you can overcome this problem by spending extra time rehearsing this information. Another strategy is to try restructuring what you have learned so it will be easier to remember. When you come across an especially difficult concept, devote some extra time to memorizing the information.

10. Vary your study routine.

Another great way to increase your recall is to occasionally change your study routine. If you are accustomed to studying in one specific location, try moving to a different spot during your next study session. If you study in the evening, try spending a few minutes each morning reviewing the information you studied the previous night. By adding an element of novelty to your study sessions, you can increase the effectiveness of your efforts and significantly improve your long-term recall.

11. Get some sleep.

Researchers have long known that sleep is important for memory and learning. Some recent research has shown that taking a nap after you learn something new can actually help you learn faster and remember better.

One study actually found that sleeping after learning something new actually leads to physical changes in the brain. Sleep deprived mice experienced less dendtritic growth following a learning task than well-rested mice.

So the next time you are struggling to learn new information, consider getting a good night's sleep after you study.

10 Fascinating Facts About Human Memory

References:
Bjork, D. (2001, March). How to succeed in college: Learn how to learn. APS Observer, 14(3), 9.

Yang, G., Lai, C. S. W., Cichon, J., Ma, W., Li, W., & Gan, W. B. (2014). Sleep promotes branch-specific formation of dendritic spines after learning. Science, 344(6188), 1173. DOI: 10.1126/science.1249098

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