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College Success Skills: Memorization

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Tips for Improving Your Memory

  1. Keep notes, lists and journals to jog your memory.
  2. Decide what is most important to remember by looking for main ideas.
  3. Classify information into categories. Some categories may be:
  • Time – summer, sun, swimming, hot
  • Place – shopping center, stores, restaurants
  • Similarities – shoes, sandals, boots
  • Differences – mountain, lake
  • Wholes to parts – bedroom, bed, pillow
  • Scientific groups – flowers, carnation, rose
  1. Look for patterns. Try to make a word out of the first letters of a list of things you are trying to remember. You also could make a sentence out of the first letters of the words you need to remember.
  2. Associate new things you learn with what you already know.
  3. Use rhythm or make up a rhyme.
  4. Visualize the information in your mind.
  • See the picture clearly and vividly.
  • Exaggerate and enlarge things.
  • See it in three dimensions.
  • Put yourself into the picture.
  • Imagine an action taking place.
  1.  Link the information together to give it meaning.
  2. Use the information whenever you can. Repetition is the key to memory.

Taking Breaks

Taking breaks during study is essential to retaining information. Our ability to remember and recall information tails off over time, with a slight uptick at the end of a session because we tend to remember better things we have just done. If we take regular breaks, e.g. every hour, then we are likely to remember much more than if we had worked through for 3 or 4 hours. This graph, adapted from Tony Buzan's book on Speed Reading, gives us an indication of retention if we work for a long period (blue line) compared with if we take regular breaks (green line).

Sleep is also vital to the memory. Our recall significantly improves after the first night’s sleep: you may recall up to 25% more in the morning than on the evening of learning. While this makes it tempting to leave things until the night before, the depth of enquiry at university means you need time to absorb material and make links.

Active versus passive revision 

It may feel easiest to revise by rereading notes, highlighting or copying chunks of text. However, there is a lot of research which demonstrates that these passive methods, while reproducing things we need to learn, do not lend themselves to retention.

To improve your retention of material, you need to engage with it actively and creatively. This gets you to think about the material differently and make links so that you can draw on a range of information in an unseen exam setting. Examples include annotation, index cards, mind mapping, repeating out loud, recording and playing back, practicing past papers. 

There is an argument that we remember:

  • 20% of what we read
  • 30% of what we hear
  • 40% of that we see
  • 50% of what we say
  • 60% of what we do
  • 90% of what we read, hear, see, say and do

This may not be scientific, but for most people, coding information in a multitude of ways aids retention.

How to Memorize Fast and Easily 

Park University Library
8700 NW River Park Drive, Box 61 - Parkville, MO - 64152
Phone: (816) 584-6285
Toll-free: (800) 270-4347