When a student says that they have a bad memory, it usually means that actually they do not encode the information they are trying to remember into their memory in an effective way. Memory is really a ‘process’ as opposed to a ‘thing’ in your head that you are born with.
Rather than ‘improving your memory’, you want to improve the process of memory creation to ensure memory retrieval goes smoothly! The reason why many students do not retain what they are learning is that the way they study only gets the information as far as their short term memory, and then before long it is forgotten instead of being encoded into long term memory.
The first stage for students in improving their retention of information is to try and find ways to make what they are learning INTERESTING to themselves, EMOTIONAL, ENJOYABLE and if they can’t do this then at least create the firm INTENTION to remember the information. It is all about their approach to what they are learning.
The next step in memory creation is the encoding process. To improve in this area, students need to improve:
- CONCENTRATION AND FOCUS (making notes about what they are learning, studying using techniques that suit their learning style, studying when they are most alert)
- ORGANISATION OF MATERIAL (making brain friendly notes: lists, highlighting, categories, grouping, graphics)
- MAKING ASSOCIATIONS AND LINKS between the new material and previously learned material.
- Next stage in the memory process is facilitating the storage of memories. Students can improve the way memories are stored by ensuring they BREAK THEIR STUDY BLOCKS UP with at least a few minutes break every half hour (giving the brain a chance to encode and file that chunk of content) and CHUNK DOWN the information to be learnt into manageable chunks.
- Getting enough SLEEP is also essential as fundamental memory processes take place during sleep.
- The other thing that is really important in this stage is REPETITION AND REGULAR REVIEW. Each time a review takes place the brain fires all the neurons connected to that memory and the more often that happens the stronger the connections between the neurons and the more intense and powerful the memory that is created.
So the top three things to improve the process of creating powerful memories are:
- focus, positive attitude and intention to remember are essential. Reading something half-heartedly while bored pretty much guarantees it won’t be retained.
- an active approach to learning where students are ‘doing’ (making notes, testing themselves using a wide range of study techniques) rather than just ‘reading’
- repetition and constant review of the material over a period of time.