Memorization is an important skill that you need to master in order to succeed academically. Because many exams are closed book, you'll need to know everything backwards and forwards in order to answer the questions. Below, I provide some memorization techniques that I used during school to help me ace my exams.
Memorization is necessary, but not sufficient for academic success. One thing to keep in mind as you read through this section is that most college professors won't simply test you to see if you can remember and regurgitate information to them. Sure, some do give those kinds of tests, but most actually want to see if you can apply your knowledge. So while memorizing facts, figures, ideas, formulas, and concepts is necessary for success on your exam, knowing how to synthesize and use that information is even more important.
Long-term memory should be the goal. Your goal for every class should be to commit the material to your long-term memory. Your brain's short-term memory can only hold so much information at one time. Overloading it by cramming it full the night before will ensure that you'll forget whatever it is you tried to memorize. Creating long-term memories takes time, so you should commit to memorizing information at the beginning of the semester.
Get a change of scenery. Traditional learning advice says you should study in the same quiet place every time you hit the books. But psychological research has found that just the opposite is true. In one study, college students who studied a list of vocab words in two different rooms performed much better on a vocab test than students who studied the words twice in the same room.
Researchers think that our brains make subtle associations between what we're studying and what's in the background while we're studying. Those unconscious associations help you remember what you're learning. For example, you might associate one fact with the leather chair in the student union and another fact with the smell of coffee in the cafe. By changing locations where you study on a regular basis, you're giving your brain more material with which to create these associations.
Bottom line: mix up where you study for more effective memorization.
Space out review sessions. In 1885, German scientist Hermann Ebbinghaus discovered the spacing effect. In a nutshell, the spacing effect shows that humans remember facts and figures for longer periods of time when the information is reviewed in sessions strategically spaced out over time instead of crammed in one setting.
He also discovered that we all have a "forgetting curve." The rate at which we forget things depends on several factors, but the amazing thing is that it's actually possible to figure out how long it will take to forget something. Knowing how long it takes you to forget new information allows you to strategically plan your next review session for maximum information retention.
One really cool computer program that figures out your forgetting curve and when you should review content is SuperMemo. You create flashcards of stuff you want to memorize and work through them on your computer. SuperMemo then uses an algorithm to figure out when you should be presented with the material again after you review it. I used this badboy for all my foreign language classes in college and it's kind of scary how well it worked.
Review and synthesize notes right after class. Remember, our goal is to transfer information from our short-term to long-term memory so that we can easily access it come finals time. One habit that will help kickstart the transfer is reviewing and synthesizing notes right after class. Many learning researchers suggest that you should do this initial review within 24 hours of first learning the new information. The longer you wait, the more likely it is that the information will disappear from your short term-memory. After you do this initial review, take advantage of the spacing effect by reviewing this info a few days later.
Teach someone what you're learning. I've found that one of the best ways to learn something is to teach it to somebody else. I did this all the time in law school. If I was having trouble with a particular concept, I'd sit down with Kate and try to explain it to her. The effort to make the ideas clear to someone else ends up clarifying them for yourself as well.
Talk out loud. Studies show that talking out loud when you're learning something aids in memorization. Called "the production effect," it only works if you talk about some of the things you're studying, while looking over other parts silently; that which you speak out loud gets stored in your memory because it becomes distinct in your mind from the rest of the material. So save this technique for the important bits that you're really struggling with.
Take a nap after a study session. Recent research shows that taking a nap after learning something can help strengthen memory retention. While in law school, I made it a habit to take a quick power nap after an intense study session. I don't know how much my naps helped, but they certainly didn't hurt my academic performance.
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