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Memory retention and recall

There aren’t any, what you might call, ‘short-cuts’ when it comes to studying, but there are certainly study techniques you can put to use that you might find MASSIVELY beneficial.

When it comes to improving your memory retention and recall for what you’ve studied, the most important thing you can make sure you do, is to try your hardest to really understand what it is that you’re studying. Essentially, if you understand a concept well, you’re much more likely to remember it and be able to discuss it well (in your exam paper) if you understand it.

But that’s not what this article is about.

The purpose of this article is to give you some easy and practical study techniques to help you remember and recall as much as possible of what you have studied.

Because let’s face it, you have a LOT of information to remember when it comes to exams, particularly when you might have multiple exams all within a few days or weeks of each other!

Some of the information you need to be able to recall on exam day might be firmly cemented in your mind because you understand the underlying principles really well, and other information you might just need to rote learn (things like facts and formulae that are hard to remember in the long term).

To that end, we wanted to share the study techniques that helped us the most when it came to making sure we could recall all of the information we needed to on exam day.

Flash cards

Flash cards don’t really need much explanation, do they. You know the drill. The con of flash cards is that there is a time cost to making them, but we think they can be a really effective method for helping you to remember concepts and facts that you find more difficult to recall. Well worth the time investment, and they don’t need to be a work of art.

We found them to be particularly effective when someone else (perhaps a helpful family member) read out the question to us. There’s something about the dynamic of talking about the content of your flash cards out loud with someone that will make your memory retention and recall even better.

Using highlighters

Before you roll your eyes — we get it — using highlighter pens is not exactly the most mind-blowing study revelation, but they get a mention in our list BECAUSE they are so simple yet so effective.

Using highlighters to highlight text, particularly in our study notes, became one of our favorite memory hacks for helping us to remember important things, whether it was a name, a concept, part of a process — anything.

Using highlighter pens achieves two things: The physical action of highlighting text will help cement that text in your mind, AND, the bright color of the now highlighted text or image should act like a pin in your mind — sticking that text or image firmly in your memory so it can’t ‘fall down’.

This second benefit should be particularly true for you if you’re a Visual Learner. Regardless of your Learning Style, the idea with highlighters is that you should be able to picture what was highlighted in your mind when you’re in the exam itself.

Discussing your study notes

We found that if we sat down for a couple of hours the day or two before an exam and talked over the main concepts we believed were most likely to come up in the exam, this helped our understanding of what we had studied, AS WELL AS our memory recall in the exam HUGELY. We used our study notes as the basis for our discussions.

Why does this work?

When you’re discussing your study notes, you will quickly discover what you understand really well, and what you need to brush up on before the exam. You’ll probably also find that you’ll be able to explain some things to your friend that they don’t understand as well as you do, and that they will do the same for you for other topics.

Whether you’re explaining or listening, doing both will help to anchor what you’re discussing in your memory.

When you’re in the actual exam, the idea is that you should be able to cast your mind back to the discussions you had with your friend, and remember the things you talked about. And viola! — There’s your recall of the exam answer.

The key with this memory hack is to do it with a friend who is at a similar level of preparedness as you. You don’t want to be spending the whole time explaining everything to them if they haven’t done enough study, because that’s not a great use of your time. And if you’re not as prepared as you should be, you’ll probably want to use the precious time you have left before the exam to do some more study on your own.

Mnemonic devices

What kind of memory hack list would this be if we didn’t mention mnemonic devices?!

For the uninitiated, mnemonic devices is simply the umbrella term given to techniques that help you to remember something.

You’ll probably be familiar with ‘word mnemonics’, which are often used by teachers to help students remember concepts, but any type of technique that aids memory is a mnemonic device. At primary (elementary) school we learnt the order of the planets in distance from the Sun using a word mnemonic: Many Very Energetic Mice Jumped Straight Up Neptune’s Pants. (Pluto was considered to be a planet back then…)

Mnemonic devices are really useful for helping to remember concepts that involve order, lists, or a process — things that have consecutive parts.

For instance, the order of the elements in the Periodic Table, the steps involved in cell division, the process for expanding an algebraic equation (FOIL: first, outer, inner, last). There are no limits to what you could apply a mnemonic device to. (We discuss other examples in this article.)

We could write a book about the different types of mnemonic devices, but to spare you that — a quick Google search throws up this delightful (if slightly old school) overview of mnemonic devices, prepared by Dennis Congos, University of Central Florida. This overview should set you well on your way to being able to come up with your own mnemonic devices. Thank you Mr Congos!

That’s our list of most useful memory hacks, do you think we’ve missed any?

 

Photo credit: Photo 1: Designed by Freepik

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