How to Remember Anything

Memory techniques can change your life... and your grades!

Performing well on tests and exams requires a well-trained memory. There is usually lots of material to remember, yet students are rarely taught how their brains work, how to develop their memory or what techniques to use to recall vast quantities of information.

12 Effective Memory Techniques

1. Early Review and Rehearsal To remember any piece of information, begin the review/rehearsal process as soon as possible after the information enters your short-term memory. If nothing active is done to create long-term memories, most of what you learn will be forgotten. This means that you must interact with the material or information when first encountering it and then do active review exercises to avoid forgetting.

2. Multi-Sensory Effect The more senses and intelligences that you use in the review stages, the more likely you are to remember the material. Using many different sensory associations increases your chances of recall. Research has shown that visual associations are the most powerful of all.

3. Recency and Primacy It has been proven that individuals remember more of what was learned at the beginning and end of a learning session. In other words, you remember things or events that happened first or that happened most recently. In terms of learning, this suggests that it is wise to have many beginnings and endings during the study period, whether it is in class or at home.

4. Similarity Effect It is easier to remember information that has been grouped, organized, or clustered than information that has not. This simple principle can help improve the capacity of your memory. For example if you are trying to remember what to do to plan for a birthday party, you could group like items together, such as Guests, Food & Drink, Games and Decorations.

5. Assimilation Effect Items that have been grouped together are easier to remember because your memory works more efficiently when it makes associations. Linking similar items is just one example of association which aids memory. Other ways are listed below:

6. Emotional Effect We also remember information or events that have strong emotional attachments, either negative or positive. To test this, ask yourself if you remember the first time you fell in love or your first kiss. The memories are clear and vivid because of the intense emotions attached to them.

7. Intensity Effect The more intense the feeling, color, smell, pain, or joy, the more likely you are to remember it.

8. Meaning Effect The more meaning you attach to something, the less likely you are to forget it. For example, it is easier to remember a sentence than a list of random words because our brain latches on to the meaning conveyed through patterns of language.

9. Strangeness Effect You are more likely to remember something that is outrageous, shocking, or out of place. So by creating zany, wild, or untraditional associations, you are sharpening your memory.

10. Specificity Effect Specific and definite information is easier to remember than vague information that lacks easy definition.

11. Repetition Effect The more something is repeated, the more it is embedded in your long-term memory. This is an essential aspect of memory training which cannot always be compensated for by other factors.

12. Storytelling Effect Weaving random items into a story is an excellent way to aid memory, often producing 100% recall. This is one of the most effective ways of remembering a list of unrelated items. It’s easy to learn and almost anyone can master the technique after a few tries. The challenge then becomes how many items you can add and how outrageous, funny, or colorful you can make your story, for maximum effect.

What is memory?

The word memory has its roots in Greek mythology. According to the ancients, Mnemosyne (NI-MOS-A-NEE), the goddess of memory, was said to have known everything in the past, present, and future. They regarded Mnemosyne as the basis of all life and creativity. In addition, according to the myth, if mortals drank from the River of Death, Lethe, they would lose all their memories. This implies that the ancient Greeks regarded memory as the source of inspiration, and equated losing one’s memories with death. So memory was held in very high regard.

That’s the ancient perspective. But how do we define memory in modern times? In his well-known book, Study Smarter, Not Harder, Kevin Paul describes memories in the following way:

“Memories are neural traces created in the brain. They are the linkages or connections between neurons that constitute the chemical bond caused by strong associations.”

As a student, you rely on your memory a great deal. Learning effective memory techniques can improve your concentration, boost your self-confidence, and produce higher grades.

Three Stages of Memory

Memory can be said to have three stages: registration, retention, and recall.

Registration is when some sensory data comes to your attention and has meaning for you. Depending on your purpose, you may or may not turn this initial registration into a permanent memory. If you don’t do something active with the item to make it a permanent memory, such as writing it down, picturing it, saying it, or making up a song, it will be forgotten.

The second stage, retention, is the level at which you make a conscious decision and effort to remember something. Depending on the context, you may employ a variety of methods to move this information into your short- or long-term memory.

The third stage of memory is recall, which is the conscious or unconscious act of retrieving the information from your short- or long-term memory. The more often you review the information stored there, the better your chances of being able to recall it easily and quickly.

Five Areas of Memory

According to Thomas Madden of the Accelerated Learning Institute in the United States, memory can be divided into five key areas, as shown in the chart below:

Type Characteristics
Short-term Immediate
  • Level where the new information enters the brain
  • Can manage about 7 bits of information before it transfers the item to the short-term working or short-term intermediate memories
Short-term Working
  • Like an open notebook in the mind, which is constantly being read to, written on, or doodled on.
  • Represents what is currently in focus.
Short-term Intermediate
  • Like a closed notebook on your desk, which you can access when you need it.
Long-term Working
  • Whatever short-term information is needed for everyday use is downloaded here.
Long-term Archive
  • Whatever short-term information is not currently needed, is stored here. More archived memories are stored here as time goes by, making the original archived memory harder to retrieve.

Five Types of Memory

Neurologist Dr. Murray Grossman and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center have delineated five types of memory, which are summarized in the following chart:

Type Characteristics
  • Extremely short-term memory – a few seconds only
  • Enables listener to remember the start of a sentence
  • Allows you to perform several actions simultaneously, such as talking and cooking
  • Also called “muscle memory”
  • Does not require awareness
  • Allows you to automatically recall a series of actions such as driving a car, riding a bicycle, or swimming
  • Lifetime accumulation of data about a wide variety of topics
  • Remembers specific personal experiences
  • Remembers words, symbols, and their meanings
  • Represents our general knowledge about the world

If you develop an interest in improving your memory and experiment with a variety of memory techniques, you will discover that intelligence is strongly linked to memory. By practicing, you will soon be able to dazzle your friends, your professors, and most important — yourself. Get hold of some memory improvement books and give it a try!