Five Easy Tips for Improving Your Memory
“Great memories are learned. At the most basic level, we remember when we pay attention. We remember when we are deeply engaged. We remember when we are able to take a piece of information and experience it and figure out why it is meaningful to us, why it is significant. … [We remember] when we are able to transform it in some way that it makes sense in light of all the other things floating around in our minds.” —Joshua Foer, author and former USA Memory Champion
Multiplication tables. Vocabulary words. Grocery lists. Doctors’ appointments. We all have a lot to remember every day. So, because students, parents, and teachers alike can all use a little help, we’d like to share some quick tips anyone can use to improve their memory. But first, let’s discuss …
How Memory Works
When we read, hear, see, or even smell new information, we hold that information briefly in a kind of temporary storage area in our brain called short-term or working memory. However, we can’t hold this new information there for very long, as the available storage space is small, figuratively speaking. In fact, according to A Mind for Numbers by Barbara Oakley, most of us can only hold four pieces of information in working memory at one time. If we don’t “do something” with that information, we will often forget it.
To remember new information, we need to actively move it along and consolidate it into “larger,” more reliable storage space called long-term memory—”tagging” it for future retrieval and use.
Fortunately, fun memory tricks called mnemonics can help.
Mnemonics: How You Can Work Your Memory
Many memory studies have shown that the more mental connections or “neural hooks” we make to a piece of new information or subject, the stronger our brain‘s long-term memory of the information becomes.
Mnemonics are tricks that help you form those connections. But, as national memory champion Joshua Foer explains, “[Mnemonics or memory tricks] work because they make you work.…They force a kind of depth of processing, a kind of mindfulness that most of us don’t normally walk around exercising.”
If you’re ready to do a little work, here are some tricks to get you started.
Five Easy Memory Tricks
- Sing It or Rhyme It.
If you ask your friends to recite the alphabet, they’ll probably sing the ABC song silently in their heads just as they learned as toddlers. Ask them when Columbus set out for the New World and their brains will silently chant, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” The combination of rhyme, rhythm, and repetition has burned these facts into their long-term memory.But this technique isn’t only for little kids. You can create your own song, rhyme, or rap to help you memorize mathematical formulas, historical events, computer procedures, and more. You can adapt information to your favorite tune or compose something original. For some great examples, just do an Internet search of songs for the quadratic equation, Avogadro’s number, or the periodic table of elements.https://youtu.be/VgVQKCcfwnU
Having trouble seeing? Try going directly to YouTube.
When you actively and creatively engage with new material in this way, you painlessly embed it in your long-term memory. So, the next time you need to memorize something, just sing it!
- Chunk It.
Which of these numbers is easier to remember, 7634219736 or 763-421-9736? Look again. They’re both the same number, but the second, hyphenated—or “chunked”—number is far easier to recall. Again, our short-term storage area is small, so we need to work with it.When you’re studying or reading new information, look for ways to “chunk it” into more digestible pieces. For example, you can:
- Remember items on a list by grouping them by their common characteristics such as color, shape, or location.
- Memorize the periodic table of chemical elements by the groups or columns indicating their similar chemical or physical characteristics.
- Recall all 50 states by geographic region, time zone, or color groupings on a map.
These chunking schemes will give you the “hooks” you need to retrieve the information and deepen your understanding of the material.
- Create an Acronym.
An acronym is a new word formed from the initial letters or groups of letters from words in a list or series. Famous acronyms for aiding memory include:
- FANBOYS for the following conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.
- LASER for light amplification by the stimulated emission of radiation.
- SONAR for sound navigation radar.
- ROY G BIV for red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet, the colors of the visible spectrum or rainbow.
So, if you need to remember a list, try turning it into a fun acronym. You may enjoy using the acronym PICK when helping young children choose library books based on purpose, interest, comprehension, and knowledge.
- Pause and Recall It.
Have you ever read and reread a chapter in a book only to find the content simply didn’t “stick”? That’s usually a sign that you weren’t fully present or focused as you read.Consciously pausing and recalling as you read or study can help with reading comprehension and memory:
- Before reading or reviewing the chapter or section, scan any subheadings to prepare your brain for the key points to be covered. Let the “visual” of the page(s) sink in.
- Now pause a few moments to recall what you already may know about those key points.
- Next, read the material, looking away from the book or your computer screen at the end of each section. Close your eyes. Try to recall the key concepts or facts from that section.
- The next morning, before beginning your daily routines, try to again recall those key points from yesterday’s reading.
While this may sound time-consuming, it’s actually far more efficient than rereading. It improves both your memory and your understanding.
- Sleep On It.
You may not think of sleep as a memory device, but research shows that short-term memories are consolidated into long-term memory as we sleep. Even a short nap can help you solidify memorized material after an intense study session.So get a good night’s sleep or take a midday snooze to give your memory a boost.
Still awake? Then share some of your favorite memory tips in the comments below!