Whether we are studying for Friday’s spelling test in elementary school, a college exam, or that big company presentation, there are a number of reliable memory techniques and powerful memory aids that yield the best results.
Stress and multitasking are among the chief causes of memory lapses. For more on how memory works in general check out my article, “Learning and Memory: How Do We Remember and Why Do We Often Forget?”
These strategies will help keep your memory nimble: Make good use of them!
Get plenty of rest. Lack of sleep will disrupt the consolidation of memory.
Reduce auditory and visual distractions. The brain can only accommodate one dominant sensory entry at a time.
Hydrate your body-brain system. A 2 percent decrease in hydration can lead to a 20 percent loss in energy.
Try to eliminate stress or any form of emotional trauma.
Do not attempt to memorize information while in pain, under medication, or under the influence of recreational drugs or alcohol.
Distribute any practice across time rather than attempting to learn everything at once (distributed versus massed practice or “cramming” the learning into a single session).
Minimize multitasking. We cannot perform two similar tasks simultaneously, unless one has reached “automaticity” (accomplished without conscious mental processing).
Rehearse information by visualizing with the mind’s eye (the visuospatial sketch pad) for visual information, and rote rehearsal (repetition) for random verbal information (the phonological loop).
Avoid encoding and retrieval interference.
Add a social aspect to the learning experience.
Use associations to prime the recall of specific information.
Pay attention to what is important (otherwise it will be discarded from working memory within 18 to 30 seconds) and “download” that information in some way to preserve it (note-taking, audio recording, oral repetition, or mind-maps).
Repeat important information within 10 to 22 minutes, again within 48 hours, and again at the end of a seven-day period.
Take short breaks or naps, during which the brain can reflect and connect.
Study or read prior to going to bed.
Prepare the body for learning and testing with proper nutrition.
Practice positive talk (focus on related prior successes).
Play nonlyrical music (performed at approximately 60 beats per minute).
Process the information as if you are preparing it to teach it to another individual. (“To teach is to learn twice.” —Joseph Joubert)
Use a scent or fragrance during learning (lecture or studying). Bring that same fragrance with you during testing.
Use mnemonic devices (acrostics, mind-maps, and graphic organizers) for memorizing multiple pieces of information. For example, memorizing the animal kingdom “FARM-B” = fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds.
Relax. It is difficult to identify pertinent information when tense or nervous.
Make as many correlations and connections to previously learned information as you can.
Review old information before reading new information.
Build bridges from what is known to what is new by using the “10–80–10” rule. Devote 10 percent of teaching time to activating prior knowledge, 80 percent to new information, and 10 percent to a preview of what is to come next.
Review and connect new content while walking and discussing that content with another person.
Study in your most favored and most comfortable environment.
Replicate the testing environment while studying. (Some state bar associations allow students to prepare for the bar exam in the examination room.)
Pay attention to diet, nutrition, and memory-boosting vitamins. Consume salmon, folic acid, natural sugars, and vitamin B12.
Spend time with mentally stimulating individuals, particularly mentors and spouses.
Perhaps the best advice (in our digital world) to offer is to unplug every now and then. It helps more than you realize.