It is widely accepted that a good memory is a helpful tool to have, but a lot of individuals take it for granted. It’s only when people can’t remember a test answer or can’t recall where they stuck their pencil are they reminded of how frustrating it is to forget something. Whether it’s recollecting a license plate, a phone number or study material for tests and quizzes, memorization — both short- and long-term — can prove to be an extremely important life skill. After all, by giving us the ability to reference past events, memory helps us influence our actions and behaviors in the present.
There are several benefits to improving your capacity to memorize. Memorization is closely linked to measuring intelligence — because what is intelligence but your ability to process, retrieve and apply information? Not having to constantly look up information can increase your productivity, and the ability to recall study notes during a test can boost your grade. Here are some memorization techniques you can use to improve your recall.
Chunking is a popular memorization technique that involves grouping items together in order to make them easier to recall. Grouping things by category or by similar features such as color or size can turn seemingly irrelevant bits of information into meaningful wholes, making them more memorable; phone numbers, for example, are often memorized this way. Grouping grocery lists by category, such as dairy, fruits or pantry items, can make it easier to remember what you need and even save you time in the store because you don’t have to bounce from one aisle to the next as you think of items.
Whether they’re vocabulary terms or things on your to-do list, try to find associations among items in sets you need to memorize. Can you group anything into the same category? Do the items relate to one another in a practical way? It can take some time to effectively organize information into meaningful chunks, but with practice, it can become effortless.
You’ve likely heard of using acronyms as a memorization device at some point in your schooling. Acronyms use the first letter of each word or phrase needed to be memorized, then groups them together to create another word. Acronyms are similar to chunking in that they require you to compile information together. Remember the acronym you learned for the order of operations? Even if you’re not taking algebra now, you probably still remember what PEMDAS stands for.
Acronyms are great because you’ll only have to recall one word that’ll help you retrieve an entire list. However, it is vital to take the time to really remember what each letter symbolizes. Otherwise, you’ll have memorized a nonsense word without any of the important information that it represents. Even though trying to find an acronym that makes sense can be tricky, it is worth it, as it helps to retrieve information so much faster than if you were to try to recall an entire list.
Storytelling or Linking
A slightly challenging but effective way to memorize long lists of items is to turn them into a story by linking them together. It is a lot easier to memorize a story — especially an interesting or exaggerated one — than to memorize a list of seemingly unconnected things. As long as you can remember the first item, you should be able to recall all the others as you work through the story. A technique similar to this that also uses linking and association to store information is called the method of loci.
The way to use the method of loci is to think of a familiar place, such as your living room or bedroom, and visualize objects or locations in the space, then associate each item needed to be memorized with them. Whenever you need any of this information, you can just mentally “go” to the space and retrieve it. Some people even expand to using their whole house to store information. This can be helpful if you’re trying to retrieve information without notes or even if you’re attempting to recall assignments without pulling out your planner. It can be difficult to implement, but once you get the hang of it, it actually becomes quite difficult to forget.
Repeating something over and over again isn’t necessarily effective, but spaced repetition is a powerful tool for encoding and storing information, even though it takes time. When we space out our study sessions, it allows new neural connections to solidify during off-time. Studying, taking a break to do other things and then coming back to the original task gives the brain time to store information between sessions more successfully than if it were crammed into one session.
When lessons are revisited at increasing intervals, information is more likely to be embedded into the long-term memory; this memorization practice can be adjusted by devoting easier information to wider intervals and harder material to shorter intervals. This method does take time, but with a little intention in spacing out lessons, information can be cemented efficiently in the long term.
It is no secret that technology has drastically affected our ability to memorize efficiently. Relying on our phones and the internet throughout the day, then suddenly being plunged into a “no-phone” testing environment in class can seem daunting in today’s world. But our ability to memorize is not unchangeable. Anyone can improve their memorization skills with practice and time.
There is no shame in using to-do lists, planners, notes and voice memos to offload your brain and create space for you to complete pertinent tasks in the present, but memorization tricks, such as the ones above, can help you recall information easier and faster without any other source besides your brain. With practice, memorization can become second nature — just be sure to remember to use these techniques.
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