Tips for Improving Your Memory
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:
This may not be scientific, but for most people, coding information in a multitude of ways aids retention.
How to Memorize Fast and Easily
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