You've probably had that stressful feeling before: you've got to memorize what feels like hundreds of dates, spellings, chemical equations or types of bones, and you have no idea how you'll ever commit all those facts to memory. But you will. The good news is that memorization is not as hard as you think, and almost anyone can improve their memory with practice. In fact, there are several easy-to-use techniques that can help you.
First: Reduce and Condense
First off, even if you do want to memorize everything, you want to optimize studying by only memorizing the most important points. Do you know what material is going to be on the exam? Has your teacher or professor offered hints or study guides? What do you know for sure will be covered on the test?
Answering these questions should help you pare down an enormous amount of information. Now you know where to focus, and you're ready to start memorizing.
Here are the top three ways to make you better at memorizing:
Chunking is when you divide information into relatable chunks. This uses your ability to recognize patterns which is one of the unique traits of human consciousness. You already use it naturally when you remember a phone number because you divide it into the area code, three digits, and then four digits. You also recall your social security number in similar chunks.
Use patterns that you're already familiar with to incorporate this technique into your own studying.
2. Using Your Senses
Studies show that your memory improves when you incorporate all five of your senses, instead of just using one, like sight. Experts recommend incorporating your mind and your body.
- Don't sit at a desk. Get up and walk around. March in step as you recite phrases you need to learn.
- Talk out loud or record yourself, so you can hear the information.
- Use a distinct taste like a sour candy to help you remember a complex point. Whenever you taste the same flavor, you'll remember the concept, and hopefully, its finer details. Take the candy into the exam if you can.
- Trace your finger over a surface while you memorize a point. Doing the same movement during the exam should jog your memory.
- Use your mind's eye. Create an image that you associate with the concept. During the exam, recalling the image will bring up the information for you.
Mnemonics is a technique in which you create codes to help you remember. Joshua Foer documented his experience using mnemonic techniques in his book, Moonwalking with Einstein. After studying memory techniques as a journalist he was able to go from having a normal memory to competing in, and winning, the U.S. Memory Championship.
Mnemonics involve getting seriously weird with your memory code and jamming unlikely components together to help you recall them.
It involves three primary modes:
- Imagination — use specific, vivid, and weird images.
- Association — use strange, unlikely ways to link concepts together in your mind.
- Location — give your mnemonic a specific place, like a house with several rooms and imagine each concept in a different space.
After you determine what you really need to know for an exam, you can memorize with chunking, your senses, and mnemonic techniques. You can train yourself to remember what you need to know on exam day. Don't forget to take the sour candy with you!
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