Even in this day and age when a lot of information is at your fingertips, memorization is still an essential component of learning. We just have to remember certain things, there is no way around it. The memory acts like a glue allowing us to put various pieces of information together and transform them into usable knowledge. So it is only appropriate to review various techniques that may help us remember things better. Some of them are well-known, others are more unique and often overlooked.
- Mnemonics are easy-to-remember combinations of letters or images that can help you memorize concepts and lists. For example, the letters of a catchy word, phrase, or rhyme can represent the items in the list you need to memorize. If you remember the mnemonic, you can then reconstruct the list.
- An effective way to aid your memory is to look for associations and metaphors that help you peg the new information to something you already know. For example, you can create memorable hypotheticals by associating a concept you are trying to learn with a scenario from a well-known book or movie. Here’s how – with the story of the Crow.
- Use the “Memory Palace” visualization technique when you need to memorize a sequence of items. First, you choose your “memory palace”, which can be any place or route that you remember well. Next, you place your thoughts or images that you want to remember next to the distinctive points in the rooms of your palace or along your route. Those points serve as memory hooks. When you need to recall the material, you mentally walk through the palace and “collect” the pieces of information that you left at each distinctive point.
- Create crossword puzzles for the subject matter you study. Crossword puzzles help memory by presenting the material in both visual and verbal formats. You can use a crossword to connect related items that you need to remember together. It is a good way to brush up on terminology. And it is a fun activity for a study group. Best of all, with a variety of free crossword puzzle making software available, it is really easy, just search for a “crossword maker.” All you need is to come up with the words and their clues, and the software will generate a crossword puzzle for you.
- PQ4R is a popular method of working with text to remember it better. PQ4R stands for Preview, Question, and four R's: Read, Reflect, Recite, Review. You begin with a preview of the text to get an idea of how the material is organized and what it is about. Next, you come up with questions about the text. Then, you read the text with your questions in mind and reflect on it, looking to connect the new material with what you already know. Later, you put away the text and recite the main points out loud in your own words. The final step is to review. Summarize the main points and test your comprehension with more questions.
- If you need to memorize a complex concept, try creating a memory collage. Pick the key elements and relationships that describe the concept. Then, find images that you associate with those elements and arrange them in a collage trying to reflect the relationships among the underlying elements. A memory collage allows you to see the concept as a whole while the verbal description can only be sequential.
- Use the smell-coding technique to evoke associative learning – a process by which you link one item, in this case the subject matter you are studying, to another item – a particular aroma. For example, as you study, you can use certain performance-enhancing essential oils, such as citrus smells (orange or lemon oil), which promote mental awareness and concentration, or peppermint, which improves the performance of clerical tasks by increasing attention. Later, when you need to recall the material you were studying, you help your memory by smelling the aroma associated with that subject matter.
- Study in multiple sessions with longer breaks. If you space out your review sessions a month apart, you may find that you will remember the material longer, according to a study done by Doug Rohrer and Harold Paschler that measured how well the participating students remembered the material tested at different times depending on their studying patterns (reported by Wray Herbert at We’re Only Human…).
- Manage your stress because it affects your memory. Short-term, acute stress can help you concentrate and remember things better. The adrenal glands respond to the initial dose of stress by immediately releasing adrenalin, which can help your performance. Long-term stress, however, has the opposite effect. If the stress is severe or persistent, the adrenals release cortisol, which damages the neurons in the hippocampus, a part of the brain that is central to memory and learning.
- Last but not least, take afternoon naps as they help to absorb large quantities of information and improve memory.
Orientation Series: 21 Steps to Becoming a Better Learner:
Step 1: Setting your learning objectives
Step 2: Taking an inventory of your skills
Step 3: Taking an Inventory of Your Learning Tools
Step 4: Finding opportunities for cognitive apprenticeship
Step 5: Determining the "IIQ" of what you read
Step 6: Choosing helpful books for law students
Step 7: “The Three 'P's of Performance” in Action
Step 8: Tapping into your social networks
Step 9: Identifying your learning barriers
Step 10: Finding your sources of motivation
Step 11: Managing your energy
Step 12: Focusing on how you think
Step 13: Mastering informal learning and professional development
Step 14: Asking Good Questions
Step 15: Condensing your knowledge