Effective Memorization Strategies

Champion memorizers are made, not born.

Whether it be in school or in university, it’s a common practice in Pakistan that courses require you to memorize mass amounts of information to succeed in school. Almost every subject requires some level of memorization. Memorizing for one class can be difficult, but it can be even more frustrating when you have multiple classes. Here at Studentpark we have received numerous inquiries from students who feel like they simply do not have strong memory skills. Fortunately, though, memorizing is not just for an elite group of people born with an inborn memory—anyone can train and develop their memorizing abilities.

Effective Memorization (Courtesy: New Yorker)

Exceptional memorizers have claimed that by using visualization techniques and memory tricks they are able to remember large chunks of information in speed. Furthermore, research shows that students who use memory tricks perform better in class than those who do not. These visualization and memory tricks help you expand your working memory and access long term memory. The techniques mentioned below can enable you to remember some concepts for years to come or even for life. Finally, memory tricks like these lead to better understanding and higher order thinking. Keep reading for an introduction to effective memorization techniques that will help you in school and in life.

Connect new things to what you already know

Try linking the knowledge you know to the information you are trying to memorize. Materials in isolation are more generally more difficult to remember than the materials that are connected to prior concepts that you’ve already learned. According to the Loma Linda University School of Medicine, an effective technique for memory retention is to relate new information to what you already know.

If you cannot think of a way to connect the information to something you already know, just make up a crazy connection. For example, let’s say you are trying to memorize the fact that absolute zero is at -273 degrees celsius, and 273 happens to be the first three digits of your best friend’s phone number. Link these two by imagining your phone freezing at this temperature. It’s a crazy connection, but it can drastically help that fact to stick in your head.

Exercise to clear your head

Numerous studies have shown that working out is not only good for our bodies, but our brain reaps many benefits as well. Exercising improves our memory and learning capabilities because it helps create neurons in areas that relate to memory. Cardio and weights both have powerful effects, so do what works best for you. So if you just can’t seem to get through that tough math problem, try running it off or squeezing in a quick gym session.

A 2013 study shows that exercise has immediate benefits on cognition in both children and adults — after a simple 15-minute exercise session, study participants showed an improvement in memory and cognitive processing.

Write down what needs to be memorized over and over

It can seem like a lot more work to continuously write down the same thing over and over, but writing appears to help us more deeply encode information into our brains because there is a direct connection between our hand and our brain. Research has shown that jotting down concepts by hand improves the ability to memorize them instead of trying to passively learn them by re-reading. Note that this is not effective if you type on a laptop or tablet, the key point here is that you must manually write it down by hand. Try writing your notes by hand during a lecture or rewriting and reorganizing notes or information by hand after a lecture.

Do not multitask

Living in a technology-driven world, we often mindlessly pick up our smartphones to reply to a text or check a social media feed while we’re in the middle of another task. In some situations, the ability to multitask can come in handy, but when it comes to learning a new skill or memorizing information, it’s best to focus on that one task at hand rather than multitask. A study suggests that multitasking undermines our efficiency — especially for complicated or unfamiliar tasks — since it takes extra time and energy to shift mental gears each time you retract between multiple tasks.

Teach others what you’ve learned

To further solidify the new information or skill you’ve learned, sharing your
knowledge is an efficient way. The process of translating the information into your own words in order to teach someone helps your brain better understand it, and there are a number of creative ways to break down a topic to teach it to others. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Understand the information first

Probably the most effective way to retain information is to understand the information
first. Information that is organized and makes sense to you is easier to memorize, so rather than memorizing the content at face value, try to dissect it into smaller comprehendible pieces. If you find it hard to understand the material, its worth spending some time on understanding it before trying to memorize it.

Sleep on it

Numerous studies have shown that your brain processes and stores information while
you sleep. Try to go through topics just before you sleep—even if it’s only for a few minutes— and see if it helps embed the information in your memory.

Use distributive practice

Repetition is important for a concept to move from your temporary working memory to your long-term memory. Use repetition to firmly embed information in your memory. Repetition techniques can involve things like flash cards and self-testing. Space out your studying or repetition sessions over several days, and start to increase the time in between each session. Spacing it out and gradually extending the times in between ensures mastery and locks the concepts into place.

Use mnemonics

Mnemonics are systems and tricks that make materials easier to memorize. One common type is when the first letter of each word in a sentence is also the first letter of each word in a list that needs to be memorized. For example, many children learn the order of operations in math by using the sentence Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally (parentheses, exponents, multiply, divide, add, subtract). Another example is the mnemonics for navigation; Naughty Elephant Sprays Water (north, south, east, west). Check the internet for mnemonics related to your subject.

Practice interleaving

Interleaving is a method of studying in which you mix alternate concepts that you want to memorize. For example, spend some time memorizing formulas for your chemistry class and then immediately switch to studying historical dates and names for your history class. Move on to practicing a few math problems, and then jump back to the chemistry formulas. This method may seem confusing at first, but studies have shown that this yields better results in the end than simply spending long periods of time on the same subject.

Some of these techniques can feel strange at first or might take some time to be effective. Remember the more you practice them, the easier and more natural they become, and the more information you can commit to memory. Also, keep in mind that you do not need to do every tip on this list. Experiment and find which ones work for you the best.