8 Principles to Improve Memory

memory

Everyone experiences recall difficulties. The human memory isn’t perfect, but luckily there are ways to improve it.

It is annoying not to be able to recall stuff you have just learned, heard about, or witnessed. Imagine you look through all of your study notes before an exam, and you don’t remember anything. Let’s try to avoid this situation with a few learning principles.

Follow the 8 learning principles and improve your memory so that you become a more effective and succesful learner. The principles have helped me along the way, so I just want to share them with you.

1. Relevance

You need to consider the relevance of the things that you want to remember. Why is it important or meaningful that you know about it? You need a learning rationale so that it makes sense to you why it is relevant to remember. Try to emphasize its relevance and find its personal significance.

2. Focus

Attention plays a major role in memory. Distractions impair memory as our attention has a limited capacity. Minimize distractions and keep your attention or focus directed towards the information that you want to remember.

3. Repetition

Repetition helps you encode information into your long-term memory. Reading the same material over and over again will help you store the information more permanently in your memory so that you can retrieve the information at a later time point. You should not repeat information that you do not understand – you should repeat the meaning of information.

4. Engagement

Working in groups is a way of encouraging engagement. There is a certain commitment and collaboration in groups that you can benefit from. When you prepare group presentations, you increase your engagement dramatically. You simply need to know a great deal about the things that you speak about.

The greater engagement we have, the more willing we are to learn new information. We need to identify or make personal links to the information that we want to remember to increase our engagement.

5. Memory Aids

Some people like to take very detailed notes, others just like to make outlines. It is very effective to use a combination of strategies such as using both visual and written information.

Through experience, we have learned which strategies to use. You need to find the strategy that works for you because we learn differently and prefer different strategies. These strategies are often called mnemonic devices (see Mnemonic Devices: The Art of Improving Memory).

6. Familiarity

When you come across new information, think about how this information is linked to things that you already know. In this way, you assimilate or incorporate new information into your existing knowledge. Try grouping related or similar concepts and terms together so that you organize information into meaningful pieces that are easier to remember.

7. Work Through the Learning Cycle

  1. Doing something
  2. Reflecting on the experienceExperiential learning
  3. Concluding from the experience, developing a theory.
  4. Planning the next steps to apply or test the theory

When you work yourself through the learning cycle, you begin to realize why the information is useful to know about. Perhaps, you have read something that you want to test in a real life setting. You test it, and then you begin to reflect on the experience. You may create new ideas on the basis of the experience, and then you begin to understand how theory and practice are linked.

8. Pay Extra Attention to Difficult Information

We tend to skip the most difficult information in a textbook, but this does not help us remember it. When you stumble upon a difficult concept, take your time to understand it and find its meaning. Try to make use of the above-mentioned principles.

Sometimes the more difficult concepts help us understand and remember the more simple information because the information is often connected somehow. See if you can find the connection.

Image: Bob May – Reference: Westbrook, Kennerley & Kirk (2011).