Building your memory palace and other study tips to ace your exams

I’m a big fan of the show Sherlock on PBS, and I find it fascinating when the world’s greatest consulting detective uses a memory palace (a way of visualizing walking through a room to remember details) to help solve crimes. Ever wish you could easily recall data from your short-term memory when taking an exam?

What tips do you recommend to build your memory palace? (Credit: The Nerdy Bomb)

What tips do you recommend to build your memory palace? (Credit: The Nerdy Bomb)

Study tips are great but in the crunch you have to use some brain hacks to put what you’ve studied onto the test paper. With that in mind, here are a few memory improvement tips to help you prepare for your next exam.

How memory works

I had the opportunity to sit in on a murder trial once and saw how the defense attorney grilled the witnesses mercilessly by challenging their ability to accurately remember events. It raised a good question for me: “What makes something memorable?” So I did some digging and here’s what I found.

Geo Beats put together a YouTube video, “10 Things You Didn’t Know About Human Memory” that has some interesting facts about how memory works.

For example, did you know?

  • Women remember information better if they hear it in a deep male voice.
  • Left-handed people recall events more easily.
  • When recalling information it helps to look away from the person you’re talking to.

Creating a memory palace

Lauren E. Mach described “Alternative Study Methods: Memory Palace” in an April 15, 2016, post for HackCollege.com. According to Mach the memory palace works because it taps into the way our memory recalls things by forming associations between the things to remember and the environment of your internal palace.

By using the palace technique you’re going to remember more information. That’s because you’re forming connections and context that help you remember the important stuff.

“You remember the place, the smell, what you were wearing, what you did later that day–there are a hundred tiny triggers that take you back to that very vivid memory,” Mach explained.

Steps to create your memory palace include:

  • Select your palace, a place you know well.
  • Break down information to be recalled into chunks.
  • Associate the chunks of information with places, people and things in your palace.
  • Always use the same images when making and revisiting your palace.

Yes, it’s extra work but just try it and see for yourself how it actually works better than just cramming.

Memory improvement tips

Now let’s look at a list of study tips that will help boost your memory.

  • Read your study material out loud.
  • Take a break every 45 minutes when studying.
  • Chew peppermint gum during the exam as its fragrance may help. Plus the act of chewing gets blood flowing.
  • Rosemary oil or tea may help and was a favorite memory booster in ancient Greece.
  • Eat lots of foods with antioxidants such as green tea, salmon, broccoli, walnuts, cauliflower, coconut oil and dark chocolate.
  • Write down or make a drawing of things you have to remember.

Brain hacks to build your memory

Keeping your memory sharp is a life-long pursuit. Here’s a list of healthy habits to develop now for a better memory.

  • Stay mentally active with crossword puzzles and other brain games.
  • Get rid of distractions by de-cluttering your life and staying organized.
  • Stay socially active to ward off stress and depression.
  • Keep alcohol consumption to a minimum.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Meditate regularly to improve concentration and reduce stress.

Most important of all, what I found is that cramming for an exam just flat doesn’t work. Oh, it feels like it works. But studies show that students overestimate how much information they retain when they cram.

What works best? A steady schedule of study, practice and homework. End of story.

What’s your favorite memory technique? Tell us in the comments.

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