Memory Hacks for Studying

Your brain loves anything that is funny, different or has a novelty value. Memories that stay with us for a lifetime are those that link with many other memories, and have a ‘slightly weird twist.’

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Anything ‘peculiar’ will stand out in your mind. Any ‘one offs’ will also be memorable if they have novelty value and are out of the norm. Often the sillier something is, the more memorable it will be. I have strong memories of a teacher who stood on his chair while teaching about height. The same teacher sat under a desk to teach us about earthquakes!

Researchers all agree that long lasting memories form an association or link with other memories. They go on to say you want to build a rich web, where memories are connected to other memories in multiple ways. This creates more possibilities for recall, which is especially important during tests and exams.

Below are six ways to make important information stand out in your mind:

1. Mnemonics

Mnemonics (/n’mäniks/) are a system of remembering information. They are especially great for lists, steps, stages, parts or phrases. Gerald R. Miller has shown the use of mnemonics can increase test scores up to 77%! Creating mnemonics makes use of your imagination and creativity. The imagery you use could be as violent, vivid or sensual as you like, as long as it helps you to remember. Remember to practice the recall of your mnemonics. Here are some examples:

• How do you remember the colours of the rainbow? Many people remember the mnemonic ROYGBIV. The first letter of each of the colours makes up the mnemonic: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet.

• If you’re doing chemistry you can remember the periodic table by remembering a mnemonic—How He Likes Beer By the Cupful Not Over
Frothy. The first one of two letters of each of these words are the symbols for the first nine elements: Hydrogen, Helium, Lithium, Beryllium, Boron, Carbon, Nitrogen, Oxygen and Fluorine.

• For reading music in treble clef, the notes in the spaces spell FACE, one in each space and the notes on the lines stand for Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge. Make up mnemonics about your work and see if it will help you remember the information you need.

2. Highlight & Summarise

A common study tip is to highlight key points within your notes or books. Highlighting, however, is not enough on its own. Just drawing coloured lines in your book does not guarantee you know the information and often means you don’t actually read the information properly. Use your highlighters to identify key ideas and then summarise these into your notes. You may use a mind mapping technique, visual notes or any note taking method that suits you, as long as you can recall the information later. Whilst simply highlighting seems like a quick and
effective tool alone, for optimum results and the best memory boost, adding the note taking will ensure that information is embedded more in your memory.

3. Use Colour

Colour helps the brain in memorising information by increasing your attentional level.

Interestingly, studies find that red is the most effective at enhancing our attention to detail, while blue is best at boosting our ability to think creatively. It is recommended to use the colour red for difficult or important facts. This colour goes straight into your long term memory. Of course, variety is also the key. If all your notes are in red, they won’t stand out anymore!

4. Framing, Borders & Numbers

Borders of frames seem to automatically get our attention. When something has a frame around it, your eye immediately goes to the inside of the frame whereas no frame means your attention is anywhere on the page. Draw frames or borders around key ideas to create a visual focus on what is important. Numbering your key points can also assist with memory. For example, if you know there are five steps, seven continents or twelve nerves, it will be easier to know if you have recalled all the information.

5. Chunk & Rehearse

Faced with a long list of information to learn such as the plot of a play, chunk it into small, manageable pieces. The short term memory prefers smaller, bite size pieces of information. Generally 3-4 facts, figures or ideas at a time is enough. Learn 3-4, cover and check that you can recall them and then learn the next 3-4. Ensure you go back to and revise the ‘chunks’ you have already covered. When practising spelling, make the letters you need to learn standout, such as: sepArate, repEtition and rHythm. Then practice, practice, practice.

6. Add Music

If you can easily recall song lyrics, then make up rhymes, chants, songs or raps to remember your key ideas. Put the facts you are learning to your favourite song, or even google songs about what you are learning. You never know, someone may have already uploaded their fun song or ditty to YouTube. Enjoy the benefit!

The key to making information stand out is creating something fun, novel and different for your brain to remember. It requires building on what you know, like a scaffolding around a building and then adding the weird, funny and strange to it! Enjoy!

Study Smart & Pass!

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Karen Tui Boyes

Karen Tui Boyes is a champion for LifeLong Learning. A multi-award-winning speaker, educator and businesswoman, she is an expert in effective teaching, learning, study skills, motivation and positive thinking. Karen is the CEO of Spectrum Education, Principal of Spectrum Online Academy and the author of 10 books. She loves empowering teachers, parents and students and is the wife to one and the mother of two young adults.
Karen was named the GIFEW Evolutionary Woman of the Year 2022.