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7 Hot Tips to Improve Your Memory

Always wondered how Sherlock manages to remember everything? Well, here are the 7 best tips that will help you remember nearly everything like Sherlock!

Do you have trouble recalling information during your exams? Well, we have 7 tips that will help you improve memory retention to ace your exams!

 

How to improve your memory for studying:

  1. Pay attention in class
  2. Use mnemonics
  3. Understand the information
  4. Build a mind palace
  5. Spaced repetition
  6. Target challenges early
  7. Eat healthy, exercise and get enough sleep

 

1. Pay attention in class

Too often, students ignore the importance of paying attention in class. They think that they can always “catch up” on the work at home and learn the content by themselves.

However, this is a big waste of time!

Let’s compare the pair.

1. Ben actively pays attention in class. He asks questions and engages with class material and discussions. So, by the end of class, he understands everything. This means that when he gets home, he only needs to revise the class content and complete the homework.

2. On the other hand, Sally is talking to her friends throughout the whole lesson. When she gets home, she struggles to complete the homework and is unable to understand the complex concepts. She also doesn’t have the luxury of asking her teacher for help. As such, Sally doesn’t have time to revise.

Who do you think will memorise the content better?

You’re right. It’s Ben! He already tackled the hard part in class: learning and understanding the content. So, he’s given himself more time to revise and practise at home.

Whereas, Sally needs to start at square one at home, without her teacher’s help. She loses her revision and practice time. So, she is one step behind Ben.

This is why it’s crucial that you actively pay attention in class. Students who actively engage in class memorise the content faster, spend less time studying at home, and ultimately, perform better at school.

 

Be present in class

It is important that you actively turn on your brain in class, instead of learning on autopilot mode.

This means that you need to tell yourself it’s time to focus and actively listen to your teacher.

To get your mind ready for work, you need to:

  • Let go of distracting thoughts:
    • Take a few deep breaths to clear your mind.
  • Sit in the right seat:
    • If your friends are distracting, don’t sit near them. If you can’t see the board from the back of the classroom, then move to the front.
  • Remove distractions:
    • Put away your phone and smartwatch if you are easily distracted by them. Turn on a website blocker if you can’t stay on task on your laptop. Put away your notepad or diary if you are doodling in them.
  • Sit up properly:
    • When you slouch or put your head on the table, you lose focus. So, sit up straight, tuck in your chair, and place your two feet flat on the ground. This position will help you focus.

 

Engage with class material

When you engage with class material, you are consolidating and enriching your learning.

To do this you should:

  • Take notes:
    • Write down any important information that your teacher says. You should also take note of any challenging information to revise later. If you want to learn how to write effective study notes, then take a read of our Ultimate Guide to Writing Perfect Study Notes.
  • Complete class activities:
    • It’s tempting to bludge through class activities and talk to your friends. However, completing them to the best of your ability will help you consolidate what you just learned. You can also identify any issues and get immediate help from your teacher.
  • Join class discussions:
    • Students share their opinions, debate with one another or extend on each other’s points. This is why class discussions are a good way to extend your understanding of the content.

 

Ask questions!

Don’t be shy!

If you’re confused about something, someone else is probably too!

Your teachers are there to help you. So, take advantage of them and ask them questions.

It’s better to deal with your problems straight away as the content is still fresh in your mind. When you leave it for a few days, it’s going to be more difficult to grasp the concept.

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2. Use mnemonics: acronyms, acrostics rhymes, songs, models…

A mnemonic is a system of association that helps you memorise information by recognising a pattern with the letters or ideas.

This includes acronyms, rhymes, songs, jingles and models.

For example:

How do you remember the compass directions? Never Eat Soggy Weetbix.

How do you recall how many days in a month? You count it on your knuckles.

As you see, mnemonic are used in everyday life to remember and then recall information. A world without mnemonics is a forgetful one.

So, let’s see the different types of mnemonics we can use to remember our content.

 

Acronym

We’re sure you’ve heard of ‘BODMAS’ in Maths before: Brackets, Of, Division, Multiplication, Addition, and Subtraction.

Think about it. How difficult would it be if you had to memorise the order of BODMAS without the acronym ‘BODMAS’?

An acronym is a type of abbreviation where a phrase, or group of words, is shortened to its initials.

For example, ‘ROY G BIV’ is an acronym for the colours of the rainbow: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet.

So, to make a sentence, list or other important information more memorable, simply shorten it down to its initials.

 

Acrostics

Acrostics are similar to acronyms, except you are using the initials of a phrase to represent another word!

For example:

Never Eat Soggy Weetbix‘ is an acrostic because the initials of each word represents the initials of the compass directions (North, South, East, West).

Also, ‘Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge‘ is an acrostic used to remember the order of the treble music sheet: EGBDF.

So, use the initials of a phrase or list and make a memorable sentence or phrase!

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Rhyme

Have you ever heard of “i before e, except after c“? This is a popular rhyme that we use to memorise the spelling rule.

It is memorable because the words rhyme with each other!

You can create rhyming sentences, couplets and even poems to remember rules and different information.

For example: “In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue

Now you can easily remember when Columbus sailed the oceans. See how easy that was?

 

Song/jingles

Imagine how difficult it would be to remember the order of the alphabet if you never learned the song… Very difficult!

A song is a lyrical composition of words that are meant to be sung:

For example, the Periodic Table Song by ASAP Science is used to remember the elements of the Periodic table.

A jingle is a short slogan or verse that is notable for its catchy repetition.

Recognise: “Down down, the prices are down!” Did you sing the Coles jingle in your head? These jingles are memorable because of their short, catchy tunes and repetition.

So, as you can see, both songs and jingles use a catchy melody, rhymes and rhythm to make it memorable.

Note: If you are creating a song or a jingle, it is better if you use a melody that you already know. This means that you can focus on remembering new information, instead of trying to remember new information and a new song.

Don’t worry, it’s not cheating. ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ and ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ both have the same melody, and the ‘Periodic Table Song’ is based on Offenbach’s ‘Can Can’.

 

Model/image mnemonics

If you are a visual learner, models and images are a great way to remember your information.

You can use charts, diagrams, pyramids, and pictures to organise your information in a visually memorable way.

For example, it is easy to remember Ancient Egypt’s social hierarchy by recalling the image of the pyramid down below.

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Here, the pyramid moves down in descending order of Egyptian people’s social ranks. The high class are placed on the top, whereas the low class are placed on the bottom. Also, the amount of people in each class is represented in the pyramid too. There are more farmers and slaves than there are priests and nobles.

So, do you see how an image can hold so much information in a simple way? By simply memorising the diagram, you already remember multiple points about the social hierarchy of Ancient Egypt.

 

 

3. Understand the information

There is no point trying to memorise your notes word by word if you don’t understand the information. It is much more difficult to recall something you don’t understand than recalling a concept you know well.

This is because the memories are stored as signals in the brain, that are triggered by different stimuli.

If you understand a concept well, you are able to relate it to different memories. This creates more triggers that you can use to recall this concept.

Whereas, if you rote learn your notes, it will be more difficult to find the right trigger for the memory because there is only one trigger.

This is why it’s important to understand your information. So, how do we do this?

 

1. Break down the concept and understand it

Firstly, you need to break down the concept into manageable parts.

There’s no point attempting to make sense of political debates about climate change if you don’t even know what climate change means!

So, how do we break down a concept?

  • Understand the foundations of the topic
  • Understand the core of the topic – key ideas
  • Define difficult terms
  • Familiarise yourself with the context
  • Break the concept into smaller ideas and categorise them
  • [Or] Break the concept down into its process.

When something makes sense to you, you will remember them better.

 

2. Link new concepts with previous knowledge

It’s important that you always try to link what you’re learning with what you already know.

Remember, the more links you can find, the better you’ll memorise something because you will have more triggers for it.

It’s like remembering a mnemonic. However, instead of linking the idea with acronyms or models, you are linking it with another idea.

This process is much more complex than mnemonics, but it is a sure way of ensuring that you have a deep understanding of the concept.

So, begin by:

  • Finding similarities between different concepts
  • Finding links between related ideas
  • Creating an analogy between different concepts
  • Relate it to your personal experiences

 

3. Teach someone

One of the best ways to retain your memory is to teach someone about it!

This is because when you teach someone about a concept, you need to understand it really well.

You are basically testing yourself on your ability to break down the concept and ground it in real life.

This means that you are recalling information as you speak and attempting to link it to different concepts. As such, teaching will help you better retain your knowledge.

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4. Build a mind palace

The Baker Paradox says that you are more likely to remember someone who introduces themselves as a ‘baker’, than someone who introduces themselves as ‘Mr Baker’.

This is because a baker is more relatable. You buy bread from a baker. You walk past a baker every morning to go to school. Maybe you even know a baker. Whereas, the surname Baker is not as relatable.

Therefore, this study found that you remember things better when you relate it to your pre-existing knowledge.

 

This is how the mind palace works.

A mind palace is a location in your mind where you store your memory. Different pieces of memories are stored in different rooms and locations.

You access your memories by walking around this imaginary mind palace and withdrawing the information from their storage boxes.

As we discussed earlier, your brain recalls different pieces of information when it is triggered by a stimuli. By creating a mind palace, you are creating your own sets of triggers.

So, to do this, you need to:

  1. Imagine a palace or a barn, apartment, warehouse, beach house… anything you want!
  2. Identify the main ideas
  3. Place these ideas on specific locations or objects
    1. You can try to find places and objects that relate to the concept
    2. Or, you can place similar or related ideas all in one room

When you are visualising the palace and the different objects in it, rely on as many different senses as you can. These include visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, and gustatory.

 

If you want to extend your knowledge, you can even memorise relationships between different sets of information. To do this, you need to:

  1. Draw links between different information
  2. Identify the objects or places that are stored in your mind palace
  3. Draw an imaginary link

Remember, if you need to recall a memory, simply walk through your mind palace and find it

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5. Spaced repetition – review and practise

It is crucial that you are constantly reviewing your content and practising it.

When you first learn something, it is easy to recall the information immediately.

However, over time, your memory fades and it will be very difficult to recall something you learned once over a year ago.

This is because your brain automatically stores new information in your short term memory to save memory space. If it’s unimportant, it will get erased.

So, you need to space your study time to constantly review your content. This will slowly transfer your short term memory into your long term memory.

So, what are some ways we can do this?

 

1. Take notes and constantly update them

When you are learning something for the first time, take notes of the main ideas and the challenging points only. You don’t want to write everything your teacher says or every line of your textbook.

Doing this helps you retain the information better, because you are actively engaging with the content.

You’re forced to think about the content and extract the main ideas.

It’s even better if you handwrite your notes! It’s proven that handwriting is more effective at retaining information than typing because more parts of your brain are engaged.

So, do this:

  • Take notes of the main ideas when you are in class or reading a textbook
  • Go home and add more information that further clarifies these ideas
  • As you learn more throughout the year, continue to add more information to extend on your original notes.

If you want to learn more about writing notes, take a read of our Ultimate Guide to Writing Perfect Study Notes.

 

2. Review notes immediately: look, cover, check

There is no point in writing notes and never looking back at them.

Notes are there to help you revise your content without having to re-read a textbook!

Take advantage of your notes and review it when you immediately get home or immediately finish writing them.

Do the ‘look, cover and check’ as you are reading. That is:

  • Look: Read a section of your notes and commit it to your memory
  • Cover: Recall what you’ve just memorised without looking at your notes
  • Check: Now, look at your notes and see if you correctly memorised the content.

 

3. Set time for future revisions

Revising your notes once is not enough. You need to have constant repetition.

So, schedule in some time in the future to review the content.

Aim to review the content immediately when you get home, then a week later, a fortnight, a month later, before your exams etc.

 

4. Test yourself: past papers, quizzes,

Testing yourself is very important because it helps you identify information that you’ve forgotten and any missing gaps in knowledge.

So, how do you test yourself?

  • Do past papers regularly (every week or two)
  • Complete quizzes: You and your friends can quiz each other on the content
  • Look, cover, check every time you review your content.
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6. Target challenges early

We already went through the importance of understanding your content to memorise it better!

So, don’t leave difficult concepts until the last minute. Deal with them early so you have time to revise and practise answering questions about them!

You will find that it is easier to remember concepts that you fully grasp and have revised over numerous times.

So, this is what you should do:

  • Don’t be shy! Ask your school or Matrix teachers and tutors for help immediately.
    • If you’re in class, raise your hand and ask away
    • You can always ask to stay back with your teacher during lunch breaks if you need more personal help
    • Email them with a question
  • Do some extra research about your topics
    • You can do extra research to find out more about the context
    • Watch crash courses on YouTube.
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7.  Eat healthily, exercise, and get enough sleep

Yes, it’s not a joke. Too often, students ignore the importance of eating a healthy balanced diet, exercising and getting enough sleep.

However, you won’t be able to learn anything if you’re feeling sluggish, sleepy or hungry.

So, it is especially important to eat healthily and sleep early before your exam!

 

Eat healthily

It’s tempting to eat fast food and snack on unhealthy snacks when you are studying… because who doesn’t have cravings when they study?

However, fast food has no nutrients. So, you will end up feeling more bloated and tired.

Your brain requires a lot of energy to function. Sugary food sources have been shown to negatively affect cognitive function. As such, it is crucial that you eat a wide variety of healthy foods and consume necessary nutrients. These include whole grains, vegetables, protein, fruits and healthy fats.

Having a well-balanced diet will ensure that you are feeding your body the necessary nutrients for it to function effectively. This means you will memorise better!

 

Exercise

The Department of Exercise Science at the University of Georgia found that 20 minutes of exercise every day improves your memory!

This is because your heat rate increases when you exercise, which means that your brain will receive more oxygen… which means it can function more effectively!

As such, it is important that you include at least 20-30 minutes of physical activities every day. This can be walking to and from school, playing a soccer game at lunch, or even doing some jumping jacks and push-ups in the morning.

Get the oxygen pumping into your brain!

 

Sleep

When you don’t get enough sleep, your body will release more cortisol hormones.

This is a stress hormone. And being stressed causes you to forget things!

When you sleep, your brain goes through a memory formation process, which consolidates your existing memory. This means that your short term moves to your long term memory.

So, ensure you always get at least 7-8 hours of sleep. If you don’t sleep well before exams, your recall will be substantially impared.

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Learn content early to store it to your long term memory!

With Matrix, you will learn school content a term earlier so that you’re always ahead of your peers. Book a free trial and join 4500 students now. 

 

 

Written by Tammy Dang

Tammy is a former student of Matrix and is now studying Law / Media (Screen and Sound Production) at UNSW. She is a Digital Content Writer for the Matrix Education blog. Tammy aspires to become a Young Offenders Lawyer in the future while continuing to create art.

 

© Matrix Education and www.matrix.edu.au, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matrix Education and www.matrix.edu.au with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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