We would all like to consider our ability to commit something to memory akin to putting things away in an organised filing cabinet, when it can often be more like a dark and chaotic maze. Experts believe you can hold approximately seven items in your short term memory for around 20 or 30 seconds, while many believe this number can be as low as four. The advent of the internet and smart phones means that we are never far from a search engine that holds the answer to almost every obscure question we could ever ask. As a result, we use our brains less to retain information, instead relying on the internet to provide any answers we need.
However, there are various different memory tools or ‘mnemonics’ you can use to improve your ability to retain certain pieces of knowledge. Everyone knows at least one of these, with the rhyme '30 days has September' for remembering the days in the months being the best example. Here we’ve compiled some tips on how to improve and organise that filing cabinet in your head.
Some people are more visual than others, which is why images and diagrams can work better for their learning. If you are using this method, make sure they are simple but vivid and colourful. Remember, your brain is more likely to retain positive images over negative.
Take the letters of what you need to remember and arrange them into acronyms, eg Roy G. Biv is an acronym for the colours of the rainbow.
LETTERS AND RHYME
If you have lists you need to remember, take the first letter of every word and create a rhyme or phrase with them. For example, to remember the planets in the solar system: My Very Energetic Mother Just Served Us Nachos – Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune (Pluto is no longer considered a planet). Ways to improve memorising things this way is to make unusual or humorous sayings or rhymes that you are unlikely to forget.
TELL A STORY
If you have a long list to remember, try taking the words and inventing a short story based around them, meaning if you remember the story, you’ll remember the keywords. Similarly, you could make connections between words in the list to help you link them while memorising.
PUT IT TO MUSIC
Many academics recommending putting the information you need to remember to the tune of a song you like, replacing the original lyrics.
Grouping involves taking a long list of information and breaking it down in to sections. The best example of this is how you remember phone numbers. Separating information or numbers into smaller groups makes them easier to remember and recall at a later date.
RECITAL AND REPETITION
Reading aloud can help to commit important words or phrases to memory, while repetition will ensure it stays there. These may sound like very obvious methods, but this simple act is a sure-fire way to improve your studies.
Many experiments have found that students who have studied and are then tested have a much greater retention of long term information versus those who don’t. If you are part of a study group, make a quiz at the end part of your routine. If you prefer to study alone, practice questions and draw up your own tests or get a friend or family member to ask you questions.
There are some lifestyle choices you can make too to improve and aid your memory, such as reducing stress, alcohol and toxins, having a healthy sleeping pattern and stimulating your brain regularly, through activities like puzzles and crosswords.