How to improve your memory

The human brain is amazing and can remember a lot of material. Yet we forget too easily and tend to cram information into it just so we can pass a test. A better approach is to keep our brain “muscle” exercised at all times, which is easy if you know some memory techniques. Here are some Need to Know study tips for college students to improve college GPA.

There are many methods and techniques to help you improve your memory. (Credit: Lisa von Sturmer)

There are many methods and techniques to help you improve your memory. (Credit: Lisa von Sturmer)

Improving your memory isn’t just about remembering where your phone or your keys are. It’s about using memory to optimize skills and lifelong learning. Anyone at any age can improve his or her memory. Some ways to do this are to use memory puzzles and exercises.

Study tips to improve memory

Educator and career counselor Katharine Hansen, Ph.D. offers “Eight Ways to Improve Your Memory,” posted on Her practical methods for remembering study material include:

• “Make your own study guide: This technique involves creating a set of possible test questions and answers and studying from those. Determine what your professor is likely to ask, compose questions, and write the answers under them. Study from your study guide until you feel you know it well,” said Hansen.

Make your own flash cards to test yourself on what you’ve read.

Read and re-read. Read over the chapter subheads, key passages and your notes to familiarize yourself with the chapters. Then re-read the whole chapter again right before the test.

Visualization memory technique

Have you seen those memory wizards who can memorize the names of a whole auditorium full of people they’ve never met before? They use a trick called visualization in which they create a picture or a symbol of the person and place that item in a room. To remember the names, they simply go through the room in their mind and extract the symbol. For example, if Bob has messy hair, a mop becomes Bob’s picture. Sandy’s picture is sand. So the mental visualization of a mop next to a sandbox means that Bob is standing next to Sandy. This makes it easy to remember a bunch of otherwise unrelated and arbitrary names.

The same technique can be used to remember schoolwork. Find a way to visualize the material you’re learning and create associations among them. Give them a shape, a direction, a color, a form. Here are some ways to create associations from “Introduction to Memory Techniques” posted on Mind Tools:

• Placing things on top of each other

• Merging images together

• Wrapping them around each other

• Linking them using the same color, smell, shape or feeling

• As an example, you might link the number 1 with a goldfish by visualizing a 1-shaped spear being used to spear it

Other memory techniques

Begin with a clear mind. Turn off music or television. Find a quiet place. Don’t worry about your boyfriend, car, grades, roommate or any other distractions. Put your full attention and concentration onto what you’re learning or reading.

Schedule short breaks during study time. Cramming for eight hours the night before won’t work. Study sessions should include short 10-minute breaks for your mind (and your eyes) to rest. Drink some coffee or water and eat something. Go for a short walk. “Studies have shown that we remember more of the first and last things that we study. Taking these breaks increases the number of firsts and lasts. It also gives your mind a breather, so that when you return to studying, your mind will be sharper and thus your efforts more productive,” suggests in “How to Improve Learning Skills.”

Give the material meaning. The saying is: “When will I ever need to know this stuff?” That’s the wrong approach. Make the material meaningful by applying it to daily life; associate the facts and ideas with practical approaches you already find logical and useful.

Create mnemonics, acronyms and rhymes. We all know Roy G. Biv to remember the colors of the spectrum and rhymes like “30 days has September, April, June and November…” To create a way to remember your study material, make up similar word play.

What are some techniques you use to help you remember things?

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