How do you remember things? Is it easy? Do you have memorization techniques?
Let’s face it, there are many more things you need to pay attention to in life today than there was even 10 years ago. In fact, we are now expected to remember, learn, and instantly recall nearly 1,000 more pieces of data per day than what our grandparents did 100 years ago.
If your memory could use a boost, these techniques are a way to increase your abilities. Just remember, there are also phone apps, low-tech note taking, and friendly reminders to help you recall important information when you need it.
Here are 21 ways to improve your memory of facts without complex and obscure pneumonic or special drugs. And, no, learning by osmosis isn’t on this list!
Take the first letter of a group of words you need to memorize and create a catchy new word. Then, practice the individual words so you know what each of the letters mean. This technique is favored in elementary schools because it is easy to teach children. Of all the memory techniques, this one is the most common.
The color spectrum: ROY G BIV – Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet
This one is very similar to acronyms, but instead of creating a new word, each first letter is converted into a cute sentence.
Order of solving mathematical equations - Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally – Parenthesis, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, Subtraction
The order of the planets is another sentence, but since Pluto was demoted, most of us can’t use that old one anymore.
In this technique, you have a numbered list that needs to remain in order. First, you associate a particular word with a number, and usually this association stays with you for all lists. Then, the word list becomes part of a story where the associated word is attached to the list in a fun way.
bun = one; shoe = two, tree = three, etc.
diary, meat, fish, etc.
Think of cheese on a bun (one), livestock with shoes on (two), a sack of grain suspended in a tree (three), etc.
Method of Loci
This is similar to visualization (covered later), but you are associating particular objects with a location you know and setting a trigger to remember them all.
Most people do this by remembering what their cabinets look like. To do this successfully, you must clearly have visualized placing the new food or taking out the last food in order to remember properly.
This method works for some people, but it is often not used.
When learning a new term or word in another language, you can create a visual or rhyme with words you know to recall the new term. This is a reminder technique, it won’t actually help you recall information exactly until you learn it.
Latin: Spectate – He can only see when his spectacles are on.
This works best with names. You take a particular feature of a person and associate it with their name. People who are excellent with names are able to choose the particular feature for a person and link it correctly. This technique requires practice, and many people start by writing down the information first.
Frank – Blue Eyes – Frankie Blue Eyes
When there a series of terms or words you need to memorize, especially if they are in order, create a story that leads you to the next word.
The lake has high levels of mercury, and it sends its fruitful messages to Venus, who blushes red and replies to Earth, about her Father Mars, and Grandfather Jupiter, about the ocean of Saturn, while they saw a child playing naked in the waters of Uranus and Neptune. We used the trigger words referencing Roman Mythology to remember the order of the planets.
Sleep on It
Studies have shown that when we sleep for 15 minutes after learning a complex topic, our brains review and relearn the topic in our sleep. Additionally, that topic has neural connections that solidify 50% quicker than when you don’t sleep.
This only works when the study period is well attended and you aren’t falling asleep reading it or in class. This is also the one of the few natural memory enhancers that we all can do without turning to a supplement, drug, or other artificial means.
People who can remember details about a particular object very well have a technique of detailing. They are able to associate those details with the whole picture because they take in so many details about that object.
This can be applied to topics you are learning. In my class Advanced Inorganic Chemistry, we needed to learn about electron orbitals and how they mix and match. I was able to detail all the potential matches and was able to see a pattern. I was able to detail that particular topic and still retain that knowledge until this day.
A step up from a Method of Loci, visualization creates images and sequences around certain objects. Meditation often uses visualization and the unconscious way the mind is able to process information.
If you need to bring a package with you, you could visualize it sitting on the seat next to you in the car. Holding that image every time you look at your package will create a sense of belonging. Then, when you get in the car, if your package isn’t in the right spot, you’ll know.
If you are learning how to increase your memory, this is a great technique to start understanding how memories form.
Learn by Mistake
For some people, purposely making a mistake and attaching the emotion of the mistake to the wrong answer can lead to remembering the right answer. The negative emotion is a stronger trigger than the praise for getting it right. Children who are in abusive homes or driven to perfectionism often utilize this technique.
This works well for choosing one of just a few answers, such as using baking soda rather than baking powder. It’s not a useful technique for things like names.
Repetition – Listening
Some people are able to learn by listening to something repeatedly. These people are auditory learner. Often times, learning a language is repetition by listening. Lectures, audio books, and sermons are attractive to people who learn in this manner.
Repetition – Doing
Most people are able to learn a new skill by repeatedly doing something over and over. These people are physical learners. Sports, martial arts, music, and drawing are learned by repetition by doing.
This is a skill employed by most workplaces. The workforce teaches people by demonstration, then allows the person to repeat it. For most people, this is acceptable. But, if you are of a learning type that is more introspective, this is very distracting.
Repetition – Reading
Facts can be learned by force when they are read multiple times. Most sciences are learned by repetition by reading. There are a certain few people that are able to read about a topic and understand what is happening and how to do it.
Unfortunately, we only retain about 10-25% of the material we read the first time. For introspection learners, reading something 2-3 times places the learning curve to 90%.
If you have a list of things to remember, organizing the list in a predictable flow can help you piece together the missing information.
In picking up 8 objects from the grocery store, if you skip the bath soap (#5 on the list), you’ll know when you hit the dog food (#6) that something was missing. Then, you can go back over your list and find the missing item.
For people with good imaginations, creating a story from the items you need to learn creates a fun and diverse way to remember more complex topics. The story breaks down items into easier to identify pieces and strings them together in predicable ways. You are then able to move through the story as you seek the information.
This is the basis of most myths and legends. In the original text, you’ll find pieces of information repeated and the stories occurring in a predictable order. This is to make sure that as the stories were passed through the generations, they remained the same.
Actors often will read their lines, and act them out in an exaggerated fashion to learn the parts. Acting out the information in a dramatic way can create associations to help you remember the necessary information. A bit of embarrassment also increases our likelihood to remember.
Another acting technique is to learn a single line at a time. Two pieces of paper are used to block all other information and the line is read. Then, the previous line is read and the actor recites the next line. This creates positive associations for each line and the triggering line before it.
Many TV actors attribute this technique for learning their lines in very short periods of times. When practiced and used properly, most actors can memories a whole 30-minute show in less than 2 hours.
Studies show that the act of walking increases memory formation by 25%. The motion allows parts of our brains that are idle during resting study to activate. The ability to unconsciously walk allows the conscious mind to focus more on the task to be learned.
Children with ADHD benefit from this technique because it also helps to expend nervous energy while studying. A study on Alzheimer’s patients also found physical activity works to slow the memory loss processes. It’s one of the ways to prevent memory loss, or learning how to increase your working memory.
Cheatsheets/Being Fed A Line
The actress Angela Lansbury was famous for using an earpiece to be fed her lines during taping of a TV show, and more importantly, during her run on Broadway. Being prompted with a piece of the information was enough to allow her, and many others, to continue on during times when old age has robbed her of extensive memory.
We do not advocate cheating on a test, however, a cheatsheet can help you study. Simply write down the beginning of what you need to learn and allow your mind to supply the missing information. While this won’t improve your memory, it can be a quick way to recall information.
Students who hand-writing their notes and assignments are able to remember as much as 80% more of the information than those who use electronic devices. Hand-writing stimulates a portion of the brain that incorporates the physical, auditory, and intelligible parts of our learning processes. The combination provides more memory enhancements than other techniques.
In areas where final revisions are more common, most students are expected to re-write their notes at the end of the year and organize the information. The act of re-writing is a memory technique.
Memory improvement tips are good, but don’t try all of these at once. One or two are enough to increase your particular way of learning. Memory strategies are a process in order to build easy, go-to techniques. Like any other skill, it takes practice and dedication.
If all else fails, there are several apps to improve memory available online. Some are free, most are paid for. Many allow multiple reminders and repetitive reminders. And don’t give up. Some people will not be able to remember some aspects of information. That’s OK. These and other external aids will improve your life if you use them.
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