Ask me the lyrics of any song from Taylor Swift’s ‘Speak Now’ album, which I listened to on repeat in 2011, and I will perform the entire song for you perfectly (well, as perfectly as I can) despite not having heard it in years. Ask me the ridiculously long name of a character in a movie I was obsessed with around the same time, and I can reel that off instantly too (Vincenzo Rocara Squagialupi Brancaleone in case you doubted me, and please do dismiss my spelling errors as just a result of Clouseau’s terrible accent). But ask me to name all the characteristics of a particular psychological disorder, which I knew perfectly about a month ago for an exam, or any maths theorem which I knew like the back of my hand barely 2 years ago, and most of the time, I’ll come out blank.
I’m sure that this is something that happens to other people too, but in general I’ve found that I’m worse off than a lot of my friends. I’ve considered a number of possibilities for why this happens to me, and am also constantly trying to find ways to improve my studying memory. So here are some of my thoughts and tips on how to remember things better, especially with reference to studying. You’ll also find a sample revision schedule at the end, with 5 clear steps to help you learn anything perfectly.
If you relate to this problem then I hope they help you, and if you’re one of the lucky ones who can remember things easily, then please do let me know if you have any further suggestions!
1. Make it fun
One common factor in all those things that I do and don’t remember, is that a lot of the time, songs and rhymes and things with a personal connection stick with me longer, while things that I’m learning because I have to, never last very long. Thus, when trying to study for an exam or learn something because I ought to know it, I’m memorising it out of a state of compulsion. So while I may be able to remember it briefly, I can never recall the same thing after a period of time has passed.
The solution, as I thus see it, is to find a way to make things more relatable for myself. It may be cliched, but some of the most effective techniques include making songs out of facts (yes, the first thing I thought of was Hannah Montana’s bone dance), using silly memory techniques (like this one), and of course, forming mnemonics.
2. Use mnemonics
Mnemonics, as I’ve used them, can be of 2 basic types – in words or in sentences. You can either run the first letters of the points to be remembered into one word, the classical example being VIBGYOR (Violet, Indigo, Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange & Red, for anyone living under a rainbow-less rock), or you can form a sentence out of the first letters, for instance, Eat Good Bread, Dear Father – the 5 line notes of the Treble Clef, for anyone with an understanding of music notation.
To break it down further, this technique is best used when learning a list of words or points. If it’s a short list, then the first letter of each word can be used to form a word or a memorable term. Remember, you can often jumble the order of the words to find the best possible order to remember. And of course, if they don’t form a simple term, you’ve only got to think of a sentence to form out of those letters. The beauty of this is that it is entirely personalised, and can be made using names of people, places and things you relate to personally, to make remembering it a breeze!
Tedious though it may sound, repetitive revision is one of the few reliable ways to ensure that something sticks with you. As your brain gets familiarised with the knowledge, it becomes easier to recall it each time, until the new information is properly stored in your long-term memory for whenever you need it. Two things that must be kept in mind during this process are frequency and duration.
How frequently you revise the information, and the intervals at which it is revised, definitely play a role in how well you learn it. Naturally, the ideal number of times varies for each person, based on the situation, but try and ensure that it is a minimum of 3 times. The first few can be closer together, but it is also important to gradually spread the revisions over longer periods of time, so the information remains but also gets reinforced regularly until it is no longer new. This is especially relevant when learning something like a new language.
4. Identify your learning style
Everyone learns best differently, through one of the three basic learning styles VAK (Visual, Auditory, Kinaesthetic – and see what I did there?) Unfortunately, not everyone realises this, and many a bright student finds themselves suffering for a mere lack of the appropriate learning style.
Visual learners prefer to see their information. They should make use of posters, charts, tables, videos and direct observational learning techniques. When studying alone, they should create written notes that are appealing to the eye, use post-its, and turn large chunks of information into flow-charts and bullet points that can easily be read.
Auditory learners prefer to hear their information. They should make use of teachers or tutors who can explain things to them, watch videos and online tutorials, and read their material out loud. When studying alone, they may even find it helpful to record themselves reading information out loud, and then listening to that repetitively. Sometimes even just explaining something to another person out loud may help them remember it better.
Kinaesthetic learners prefer to touch and feel their information. They learn best with a hands-on approach, which can best be applied by doing physical tasks and activities. When studying alone, they should combine physical activities like walking with studying, and can write or type notes to keep their hands active. They can make flash-cards and colourful flow-charts and graphs, as the very act of creating these can help them remember the information easier.
5. Mix and match techniques
What I, and several others I know, find most helpful, is to combine several of the above mentioned techniques to learn in the optimum way. This includes reading silently, reading out loud, referring to the notes and re-writing them, creating clear bullet points that are easy to recall, rewriting from memory, and explaining them to other people.
Finally, I would like to present a sample revision schedule. This combines a lot of the tips mentioned above, and while it may seem quite stringent I really do believe it helps (especially when studying any form of academic material that is to be understood and later recreated).
- The first time new information is presented, read/listen and understand it thoroughly.
- Next, try to recall the general points. Read through again, and this time mark out specific points that must be learned. This may include writing lists of bullet points, highlighting key terms, or forming mnemonics, depending on the type of information. Clear any doubts about the information.
- After about a day, rewrite the information without looking. Compare it to the source when it’s done, and mark all the points that you forgot. Either read out loud or write them out.
#3 may be repeated once the following day, if time permits.
- After a gap of about 2 days, write out the information once again. You may refer to the source once before beginning.
- Revise the information at intervals of about a week to ten days, repeating as many times as is necessary until you remember it perfectly.