How to use memory techniques when revising
There are various memory techniques you can use when revising.
Memory techniques are tools that can help you:
- Consolidate information (move it from short term memory to long term memory)
- Retrieve information from long term memory
If you’ve read our post on how your memory works, you will already understand that to create lasting memories you usually need to associate new information with meaning and other stored information or personal experiences.
Retrieving information from memory is much easier when there are cues and hooks to prompt and help us along.
Let’s take a look at some popular memory techniques that may help you study and revise.
Word mnemonics are created when the first letter of each item in a list is arranged to form a phrase (acrostics) or word (acronym).
This allows us to make associations between the information being remembered and a catchy phrase or singular word.
Word mnemonics work well because a phrase or word is far easier to remember than a list of information.
Crucially, they also provide the hooks we need to remember each individual item of information in our list.
You may be familiar with several word mnemonics already, for example:
Colours of a rainbow
Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain
Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet
Order of maths operations
Brackets, Orders, Division, Multiplication, Addition, Subtraction
Most people find it easier to remember thing they have seen, rather than things they have read on paper or are told about.
This is because images stick in out minds easier than written information.
Because of this, some people find that creating images are a great way to remember facts and concepts when preparing for an exam.
How to use visual mnemonics when revising for an exam
- Write down the concepts, items or facts that you wish to remember
- Create a sketch that includes a visual cue (hook) for each item of information you need to remember
- Keep looking at your sketch, associating each element of the image with the corresponding information
- Visualise the image without the physical sketch and practice recalling the information
The overall image you create doesn’t have to have any relationship to the content being learned.
However, each element (cue) within the image does need to be interacting with other parts of the image.
Remember, with this technique you are not creating individual images just sketched beside each other.
Absurd, funny and odd images work better than a boring image, as they are much easier to remember.
You may need to use your imagination to find visual cues for more abstract concepts.
How do visual mnemonics work?
Visual mnemonics helps you remember information because:
- They force you to focus and concentrate on what you are trying to remember
- You are rehearsing the information over and over again
- Images are easier to remember than a page of facts
- Each part of the image acts as an anchor or hook, helping you to recall the next idea, fact or concept
The memory journey technique is a well established and popular method of remembering a large list of items or concepts.
It works by associating information with landmarks or the stages of a journey that you know very well.
Memory journeys are flexible. You can use them to remember objects, people, events or other exam concepts.
Also, by focusing on different journeys, you can remember different lists of information.
How to create a memory journey
- Pick a well known journey that you can visualise
- Choose and write down the landmarks or key stages within that journey that you intend to use/notice
- Place at least one item that you wish to remember at each landmark or key stage of the journey
- Run through the journey, including the items, over and over again (it should almost feel like a story)
The trick is to create vivid (nice and clear) mental images through the journey.
Making the journey funny or outrageous will also help you to remember it.
Example journeys could be:
- Journey to school from home
- Journey to your grandparents
- Journey to your friend’s house
- Journey from the kitchen to your bedroom
Example of a memory journey
Remembering a list of random items through the process of ordering and eating at McDonalds:
- Front door: had to walk through a giant puddle of melted sticky CHOCOLATE
- Food order kiosk: struggled to order the food because I was made to wear BOXING GLOVES, was given order number 1066
- Food collection point: was served my order by JOHN LENNON, who was wearing a VEST
- Table: Opened my BigMac box to reveal a tiny DOLPHIN
Chunking is the organisation of several items of information into groups (chunks).
Through the use of chunking, we can make large amounts of information more memorable.
This is possible because it allows us to get around the cap of how much information our short term memory can hold (which is usually 7 items).
Each chunk can represent several other items of information.
We often use chunking automatically without even realising, for example, when remembering phone numbers.
Ways to chunk information
Generally, we can achieve chunking by:
- Just trying to group items together
- Trying to find patterns within the items
- Trying to organise the items into categories based on their meaning
Layering is a technique for remembering complex information.
This is achieved by gradually building up to a complex idea from a foundation of easier less complicated facts and material.
It is a written revision task carried out on paper or index cards etc.
How to use layering
- Start by documenting the simplest and easiest facts about the topic (these are your foundations)
- Add another “layer” by including slightly more complex information about the topic
- Create additional layers as needed, increasing the complexity of the information each time
The technique works on the assumption that if you can remember information on the lower levels, it will trigger memory recall for information on the more complex layers.
If you can at least remember the “easy” foundation information under exam pressure, it should hopefully lead to the more complex layers of information as you progress with your answer.