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Tom Siebold

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Improving Your Power of Remembering

In response to a question, a young child told his teacher that he really hadn’t forgotten the answer but that his brain just wanted to keep it a secret.  Perhaps the child’s description of the forgetting process is an accurate one.  Once an idea is placed neurologically in the brain, you don’t really lose it altogether you simply have difficulty accessing it.

Everyone forgets most of what he or she learns.  In fact it is forgotten very rapidly.  Most studies estimate that after the first day almost half of the material read or heard is forgotten and after nine weeks over 80 percent has been lost.

One of your primary tasks as a student is to process a large amount of material and at the same time refine your ability to recall this information at the right time and place.  Your ability to do this can be improved. 

Below are ten memory enhancement techniques.

1. Know Why You Want to Remember

In order to remember something you must have an intent to remember it.   The child learning to ride a bicycle will quickly remember how to press the brakes, skinned knees and elbows will see to that.  In other words, you need to see the material under study as meaningful, as something that serves your needs or fits into your overall goals.  When you come across something you want to remember, tell yourself “I intend to remember this because it is important for these reasons….”

2. Select Carefully What You Want to Remember

Selectivity is one of the main principles of remembering.  Since you can’t hope to remember everything you must learn to identify key ideas and to focus your remembering efforts on these.  The trick here of course is to make wise choices in determining what actually is a key idea.   You can uncover key ideas and information by determining the writer’s purpose, examining the context in which the ideas fit, and formulating questions to ask yourself as you read or listen.  This along with good student sense will aid you in selecting the right material to remember.

Hint: It is a good idea to remember information from the broad to the narrow.  This means get the larger overall picture of the subject before you narrow down to the material you specifically want to remember.  If you have a feel for the bigger sense of something, it is a lot easier to recall details.

3. Organize the Material to be remembered

A good method for remembering a lot of material is to restructure it into a personal organization.  Combine individual units into chunks.  For example, in your American Studies class you may be required to remember a large number of writers and their contribution to America.  Instead of attempting to march individually through a long list of names, one-by-one, categorize them into a helpful, yet simple, pattern.  Writers from Ben Franklin to Henry James may be organized into three literary periods:

Neo-Classical

Franklin

Paine

Freneau

Etc.

Romantic

Emerson

Hawthorne

Thoreau

Etc.

Realistic

Twain

Howells

James

Etc.

Organization disarms the bits-and-pieces feeling that can devastate the remembering process.  Be certain that you use an organization system that is simple enough to facilitate learning, not overburden it.

4. Reword the Information to be remembered

Key ideas to be remembered should be rephrased in your own words (preferably on paper).  This not only reduces bulk to be learned, it also puts things in a way that is understandable for you.  An additional benefit of this technique is derived from the fact that the activity of rewording is an active learning process.  It requires you to break the passive mindset and get involved.  Moreover, to put something into your own words requires you to have a full understanding of the material, an understanding that will beget better remembering.

5. Get Physical with the Material to be Remembered

If you watch a child memorize his lines for the second grade pageant, you will be struck by the kinetic energy that goes into the learning process.  Elaborate, emphatic gestures accompany the words, the child moves from place to place, and it is all done out loud, usually with great emphasis on key words.  There is a lesson to be learned here.  Remembering can be enhanced with physical activity.  Hence, when you are studying key information for a test, get up and walk around as you talk your way through the material, use hand motions to drive home key words and names, and say it all out loud so that you not only think it but you say it as well as hear it.  If you are confined to your desk (roommate pressure, perhaps), use your pencil.  Write down facts, names, or ideas that need to be remembered and say them to yourself.  However you do it, infuse energy into your remembering pattern.

6. Relate What You Want to Learn to Something You Already Know

To retain a fact or idea it is important to associate it with other know facts or ideas.  In other words, relate what you want to remember with something you already know  This connects the new with the familiar.  If you have ever had the experience of remembering somebody because he looks like someone else who you know well, you have used this principle of remembering called association.  The trick here is to weave what you want to remember into your existing system of information and experience.

7. Use Mental Imagery to Remember

One of the best methods of remembering is the process of creating mental pictures of the thing to be learned.  For most people, images are easier to remember than words.  Take advantage of this fact by coding material into your visual memory.

Example: Sometimes a simple diagram or chart will help you remember a large amount of information.  Other times you may find it helpful to create a more vivid mental picture in your mind.  For example, to remember the four reasons why one forgets—repression, interference, decay, and distortion—you may find it beneficial to visualize an imaginary aerosol spray can of R.I.D.D. spraying away that which is to be remembered.

Tip: Word mnemonics may be helpful.  The word HOMES, for example, can be used to help you remember the Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior.

8. Recite and Repeat What you Want to Remember

Recitation is repeating to yourself what you have learned.  After you look at your notes or read a selection, attempt to recall what you can.  When you are stumped, take a look and try reciting once again.   Your recitation should employ as many of the remembering techniques as possible: recite the material aloud, be physical if you can, put the information into your own words, and impose on it your own organization.  In addition, repeat the material long enough to etch it into your mind.

9. Check Your Remembering Progress

As you study, stop occasionally and test yourself.  After you recite something, for example, check your progress by asking yourself some questions.  The ease or difficulty by which you answer these will give you an idea of how the remembering process is going.  Everyone needs to know how he/she is doing; feedback will give your learning an important boost.

10. Be Aware of Time and Place

Don’t build in defeat by attempting to remember something in an environment full of distractions.  Turn off the radio, turn off your telephone, remove the temptation of food, and ask your friends to respect your study time.  Moreover, don’t allow the length of your study period to outstrip your energy level.  Take breaks and divide long, marathon study sessions into two or three shorter ones.  Fatigue is perhaps the greatest roadblock to effective remembering.