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Introduction

There are important strategies and systems that should be in place when studying to help students process and retain all the information that they will take in. Through a process called encoding, all the information can be stored in our long term memory. When a person has strong long term memory, reviewing for exams and recalling concepts becomes a lot easier.

In this article, we present a few of the many memory techniques that learners can follow and hopefully help them form new good habits. Having a good long term memory will be helpful as students learn more and acquire skills.

Related reading: How to Study Effectively with Flashcards

What Type of Learner are You?

Knowing what type of learner you are is key to boosting your memory. There is a strategy that is appropriate for each type of learner. In general, there are three types of learners: visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners. Visual learners learn best through visual aids and images, auditory learners learn thorough listening while kinesthetic learners learn through actions and movement (hands-on learning).

Knowing how you learn and process information will help you understand and remember information. A kinesthetic learner might get overwhelmed with books and readings. Even if they sit in their study area trying to read entire books and manuals, they might struggle to understand and remember what they just read.

They might benefit more if they were able to practice or demonstrate what the text was saying. An auditory learner might remember information if it was said out loud. Visual learners could benefit from having a whiteboard where they can draw graphs and charts that connect all the concepts that they learned in class.

 

Strategy #1: Focus

Meditation, brain training and mindfulness exercises are some of the popular tools often used to help people focus. When a person does any of these activities, they channel all of their energy and attention towards doing one specific thing. This is best done in conjunction with eliminating distractions like social media, unnecessary gadgets and entertainment (Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, etc.).

Training the brain to focus to do one thing at a time goes against the belief that people have to multitask to get as many things done as possible. However, recent studies have come to light that suggest that too much multitasking can lead to overwhelm and burnout.

By practicing any of the three activities suggested above, students will hopefully learn how to regulate their energy and attention so that they are able to devote their time and energy towards studying and memorizing.

Strategy #2: Manage Your Time

Time management is key when it comes to improving one’s memory. Students have a required number of subjects to take in a given semester, which means they have to juggle accomplishing all requirements (exams, projects, research papers). The only way to pull this off is to follow a schedule, and make sure to devote enough time to each subject.

We manage our schedules and tasks so that we can do as much as we can within the time that we have. When a person is unable to manage their time, they have the tendency to overwork to the point of exhaustion. This is not a good practice because the brain can become overwhelmed with all the information and activity it has to  process.

When preparing for exams, it is better to review on a regular basis to give the brain cells the time that it needs to process all the information than to cram volumes of information in one night for an exam the next day. Studying a little bit every day is more helpful in boosting memory than cramming and procrastinating.

Strategy #3: Strive for a Balanced Lifestyle

Having balanced lifestyle means managing your day-to-day tasks and giving yourself enough time to rest and recover. After absorbing all of the information that your brain can handle in a study session, you need to give yourself some time to rest and recover.

These “breaks” might make you feel like you’re doing nothing, but you’re actually allowing your brain to process all of that information, organize it and encode it so it can be stored in the long term memory.

Sleep deprivation is the enemy of improving one’s memory ability. Pulling an all-nighter might seem like a good idea on the night before an exam, however, you will end up feeling mentally exhausted due to the massive amounts of information that you’re cramming into your brain, and physically exhausted because of the lack of sleep.

That all-nighter might actually backfire because you might struggle to get up on the day of the exam, and since your brain is also tired, you’ll most likely end up spending more time trying to recall information rather than being able to completely answer the exam questions.  

Allow yourself to recover and repair yourself from all the stress of daily life as a student. These little acts have an effect down to the level of the brain cell. Brain cells can be damaged by stress and an unhealthy lifestyle.

Strategy #4: Create a System

Studying involves more than just sitting down in reading a text book. All the information that you come across will naturally be organized in the brain. To help facilitate this process, researchers recommend that students create a system that will help the brain organize the information that  it has to store.

Doing so will ease the process of encoding and speed up the process of retrieval when needed. Creating a system of studying will help boost the memory ability of a learner.  

The main cognitive benefits of creating a system is that would be that long after the studying has been done and information has been stored in a person’s memory, the student will still be able to access the information when needed.

For example, chapters that were learned during the start of the semester—if stored well in a person’s memory—will be retrievable as the student adds to that existing knowledge.

Instead of thinking of memory as a filing cabinet where new information is relevant and old information is thrown in the back of the file and soon to be forgotten. Think of it as something more like Sherlock Holmes’ memory palace.

Strategy #5: Visualization

Visual learners can make use of visual aids like graphs, infographics, photos and videos to help them learn. When reading text books, pay close attention to photos and graphs as these are visual cues and representations of the information that is being explained. Visual learners will most likely remember concepts and information through these visual aids, and not the collection of words and paragraphs in a text book.

You can create your own visual aids by making your own notes, highlighting and annotating texts, and creating a mind map of a key concept that connect all related information. These strategies can help students organize all the information that have been read, and help them remember it easily when you need the information.

Strategy #6: Repetition and Read-Aloud

Repetition is one of the best ways to encode information. This can be done by reading and rereading parts of a book until students are able to remember the information that you need. Those who attend online lectures can download recordings of the lecture so that they can listen to it again. The more the information is repeated, the more ingrained it will be to the long term memory.

Another related method would be to do read-alouds of certain portions of a book or review notes. This allows students to process information that have just read. If you want to take it a step further, you can read aloud to your friends during a study session. Not only will this help you encode information in your brain, this practice can open discussions with your friends, therefore giving you the opportunity to learn from each other. This can deepen the learning experience among peers.

Tip: you can do read-alouds when you find yourself feeling drowsy while studying to help you wake up!

Strategy #7: Connect concepts

In any given topic, there are a lot of concepts that one has to memorize. However, it is also important to create connections between and among these concepts. When reading up on a new topic, students can try to see how it is related to the lessons you have learned in the earlier part of the course.

By making connections, students will increase the chances of recalling previously learned information. Connecting concepts is helpful when a student tries to recall information from previously discussed topics.

Strategy #8: Establish a Study Routine, but Change It Up Once in a While!

Part of having a balanced lifestyle is to have routines in place. This is also true for studying. Having a study routine will allow you to have time for all the school-related activities that you have to accomplish while being able to prevent burn out.

Routines are good, but because it is repetitive, you might get bored and easily distracted. Instead of staying in your study area at home, why don’t you try studying at the library or at an outdoor space? A simple change of scenery might give your brain the refresh it needs.

Change up your learning strategy for different types of content. For example, if you’re studying Shakespeare for English Literature, read the text and then follow up by watching the movie version, or a local Shakespeare production if it’s available. When learning a particular subject matter, do not be afraid to explore different learning strategies.

Try Different Strategies

The strategies stated above are a few of the methods that students can use to improve their memory for studying. It’s up to you to decide which strategies to try. Do keep in mind that while memory retention is the end goal of these methods, not all of them will work for you. If you are a visual learner, you might benefit more from visualization techniques rather than using read-alouds and repetition.

The one of the early sections of this article, the different learning styles were discussed. While there are suggested methods for each type of learner, do not hesitate to try strategies—even those that are not related to your learning style. Afterall, one’s learning style can be a combination of any of the three, so just because you are a visual learner, does not mean you will not benefit from read-alouds and repetition.

Final Thoughts

Improving one’s memory is a complex process that takes time and conscious effort. One also has to be aware of their learning style. Although there are dietary and herbal supplements that claim to help boost your memory, there are ways to improve memory by changing some bad habits and introducing new good habits to your daily routines.

Making these changes will help ensure that the development of your learning and memory happen gradually and have positive lasting results. Improving one’s memory ability is limited to students.

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Patricia Alfonso

Patricia Alfonso is an educator and researcher who earned her master's degree in guidance and counseling from Ateneo de Manila. She specializes in developing school counseling programs for schools.

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